23 June 1995

A few days sun will keep cereal

growers smiling

UNSEASONALLY dull, but dry weather has set the harvest guessing game in motion. One fear is that if June flames before significant rain arrives, wheat quality and yield could suffer – despite the relative absence of disease.

Among a straw poll of opinions the most pessimistic is from Simon Draper, chairman of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants. "If we dont get sunshine in the next week or 10 days well be half a ton an acre down on wheat and barley. Wheats look spectacular, but we need sunshine to convert that potential into yield. The last two weeks in June are the most critical in a crops life."

Some barley crops are beyond recall, he says – a fact echoed by John Blackman, cereal breeder at CPB Twyford. "Some barleys are dead in places on the chalk. Im convinced barley will be disappointing."

In places it would take only a couple of days of dry hot weather to suck remaining moisture out of soils and leave wheats stranded too, he suggests.

Mr Blackman is frustrated the firms unlisted barley Finch "looks marvellous, but there is no seed available". It was selected during a run of dry springs, he explains. "But it came through recommended list trials in years of high rainfall and failed to perform."

Late frost damage appears to be more widespread than first thought. Crops as far apart as Cheshire and Lincolnshire are suffering, as well as in the Cotswolds, comments Cargills Chris Toft. "Damage in some Gaelic is very severe. Around 20-50% damage in a percentage of ears could mean a 2-5% yield loss." Early drilled crops and early maturing varieties are worst hit. "It may be much worse than we think, people simply havent been checking their crops."

Agronomist Doug Stevens reports 30mm (1.2in) of rain so far this month at Norfolk-based Morley Research Centre. "But within 30 miles there are people who have had three times that. If we get some sunshine now theyll be smiling. Some of our crops are just beginning to show signs of needing water, but Im still very hopeful." &#42