Scorching weather across much of the country has hastened the harvest but raised fears of premature wheat ripening
In the past week further outbreaks have been reported in East Yorks, Staffs, Essex, Devon and Somerset.
Second earlies continue to be lifted. Maincrops are at full canopy and flowering.
MUCH East Anglian winter barley has been cut. After a low disease season crops have turned in better than expected yields of good-looking, low moisture samples. Early signs are that rape yields are about average. The first Soissons wheat could be cut soon.
On Suffolk heavyland on the Essex border John Wayman of Colts Hall, Cavendish, near Sudbury, is pleased with progress so far. "My 129 acres of Intro barley combined well, with most of it below 15% moisture," he says.
"It followed wheat and my guesstimate puts yield at about 58 cwt/acre. Last years Intro after set-aside did 63-64cwt. The sample is not quite up to that, which was amazingly good."
At the start of the week he had combined 16ha (40 acres) of Bristol out of a total of 53ha (130 acres) of winter rape.
"We expect to be finished by mid-week. The yield is nothing special and it is very dry, coming in at under 7%."
According to Bedfordshire-based grain merchant Banks of Sandy the East Anglian harvest got off to a flying start.
Barley yields up
"Winter barley is turning out to be good, with yields about 5cwt/acre up on last year," says Michael Banks. "Samples, particularly of malting types, look good and grain nitrogens are a shade higher than last year, when a lot were in the 1.4-1.5 range."
But in Norfolk, where cloud from the sea frets in mid-season provided near ideal conditions for winter barley, nitrogens are probably about the same as last season, he says.
Norfolk barometer grower Robin Baines started winter barley at Wroxham Home Farms, near Norwich, but stopped after three days, as the rest was not quite ripe.
"After combining 150 acres of Puffin I ran out of barley fit enough," he says. "It was 99% ready but I decided to wait a few days before restarting. We expect to be flat-out this week. Grain already in store came in as low as 12% moisture.
"Early indications suggest a yield of 2.25t/acre. Last year Puffin averaged 2t. There is also a lot more straw, up to 20% more than we have seen in the past." Crops ripened evenly, screenings are very low and nitrogen levels are lower than in 1994 at 1.4-1.6.
In Essex PG Rix Farms of Great Horksley, Colchester, has finished 110ha (270 acres) of Fighter, Gaelic and Pastoral barley grown for seed.
"I suspect the yield is good at about 3.5t/acre," says Peter Rix. "The sample looks nice and we have been surprised by the grain quality – it has a decent bushel weight.
On a private visit to Spain last autumn, David Croston, the Meat and Livestock Commissions sheep strategy manager, took the opportunity to visit sheep flocks in northern Spain and reports on a visit to Areostolas, near Huesca, the farm of an old friend, Augustine Marien
A COMPLEX network of irrigation canals fed from the high Pyrenean ranges to the north brings life to the arid regions of Navarre, Aragon and Catalonia.
Among these irrigated areas sheep play an important role – in Aragon alone there are over a million breeding ewes. Traditionally flocks average around 300-400 ewes, mainly the local Rasa Aragonese, which is a small hardy breed with a long breeding cycle similar to the British Dorset Horn.
The similarity ends there. The flocks are maintained on a small irrigated pasture of ryegrass, sorghum or lucerne. For a majority of the year the sheep are hired out to neighbours to forage across the large variety of arable by-products.
Ewes lamb three times every two years. Lambs are sold at light weights (12kg dw) and profitability depends on the season.
The autumn period of peak lamb prices has been affected by imports of the light hill lambs from UK. But from January to April, when imported lambs are the heavier lambs from northern Europe, prices for the home-produced milk lambs are unaffected and still quite high.
Output from these flocks is low – 1.2 to 1.3 lambs sold per ewe per year at around 10-12kg. But it is their integration into the irrigated arable cropping which ensures their continued presence.
Only a few have tried to improve flock output. One such pioneer is Augustine Marien who farms 600ha (1483 acres) of irrigated ground in the flood plain of the Rio Cinca.
Some 20 years ago Augustine set out to improve his flock. Technical expertise was simply not available in Spain at the time and he looked to France and UK for direction. With a keen interest in genetics and animal breeding he was able to identify the factors influencing profitability of the flock, and set about an improvement programme which in the early years focused on increasing ewe size, prolificacy and lambing interval. Latterly growth rate has become a more important selection objective.
The small local Aragon breed was improved with introduction of the larger framed Rasa Man-chega from the south. Crossing with large meat breeds such as the Ile de France was also tried. This proved unsuccessful as the market remained resistant to the heavier carcasses, despite their leanness.
In the early 1970s most of Europe was experimenting with either the Finnish Landrace or the Romanov to increase prolificacy. Early results from breed comparisons at the INRA testing station in Bourges, France, where both breeds were used, led to the introduction of Romanov rams. Litter size improved dramatically, rising form 1.2 in 1973 to 1.9 in 1993 (see table).
Satisfaction with overall prolificacy led Mr Marien to concentrate on eliminating the coloured fleece types – a feature of the Romanov – as part of the present selection effort. At the moment he has reduced the incidence from 22% down to 8%, which is important when it comes to selling on breeding ewe lambs and rams.
The most interesting aspect of his breeding program is the selection for lambing interval. A move to all year round lambing from the more traditional three in two years has allowed efforts to be concentrated on this trait.
Selection started in 1980 since when average lambing interval has been reduced from 227 days to 217 days. Some individual ewes have a remarkable lambing record and it is sons and daughters of these which are brought into the flock as replacements.
Selection on the male side concentrates on growth rate. All ram lambs are left entire and those from the nucleus are weighed at 85 days, which is the target marketing age for these creep-fed lambs. A simple growth index is calculated for each candidate ram and the best rams are retained for stock use.
Improvements are now paying off. After reaping the benefits of his successful selection programme for a number of years, Augustine is now selling his success on to others throughout the region. Annual stock sales – 80 rams and 800 ewe lambs – make a significant contribution to flock profitability and the premiums over the slaughter lamb price adequately cover his significant investment in the recording and selection programme.
Flock management is complicated not only because of the selection programme but also through the close grazing control needed to maximise the availability of the farm forages. Day to day control is down to the head shepherd, Jose Antonio, with the help of his team of three.
Ewes are run in three distinct groups, lambing and lactating ewes (flock 1), dry pregnant ewes (flock 2) and a selection flock of high performance ewes (flock 3). Ewes from flock 3 are separated out at lambing and returned to flock 2 after three months when lambs are weaned.
Tight management control is achieved through a system of coloured neck collars which denote the lambing month. Ewes are moved from flock 2 into lambing quarters according to their lambing collar, and as they lamb they remain in mothering pens for four days and then gradually move into steadily increasing group sizes over a period of 22 days.
At this stage ewes and lambs are moved into flock 1 which remains in a large semi-covered yard from which the ewes go out to forage by day, leaving their lambs indoors with free access to creep. In the evening, the mothering up process is an amazing sight. In just 15 minutes, lactating ewes are shed from the dry ewes into the large creep area where they remain with their lambs until the morning. Then they are once again shed off and taken on to the arable grazings by the shepherds.