28 August 1998

Nearly all is gathered in

HARVEST continues at a good pace with only 27ha (66 acres) of wheat left to cut by Thurs, Aug 20. Things have gone relatively well, with a break on Sat, Aug 15 due to some rain falling in the early hours of the morning but we resumed after lunch the following day.

Progress in the Drake was painfully slow as almost all the 52.84ha (130 acres) was as flat as a board. In all my years of farming I cannot remember having so much wheat down.

The reasons for that are many and start back as far as last harvest when out of 12 C1 variety stocks we managed to combine only two before the rains of late August – those were Drake and Abbot. The remainder chitted in the ear and were unusable as seed, leaving little choice if we were to continue with home-grown seed.

Drakes main weakness is its moderate-to-poor straw strength and its unsuitability for early sowing. We therefore proceeded with caution, drilling the seed between Sept 5 and Sept 10 at 152 seeds/sq metre as a first wheat.

The crop got away to a good start and was sprayed with 2.3 litres/ha of chlormequat on March 17, but the crucial application of Cerone and chlormequat which should have been applied in early April, was hindered by three weeks of continuous rain. It was not sprayed until April 27 when growth stages were accelerating rapidly.

The one weapon in our armoury to control lodging had been disarmed and as we went through May all fingers and toes were crossed.

We did not have long to wait: The first few days of June brought heavy thundery rain and the fields of Drake, which had looked magnificent, began to go down like a pack of cards.

As so often happens, the weather had the upper hand and even though we had reduced nitrogen and applied late growth regulators, the distance between the nodes was too long and the stems too weak to hold up a potentially 10t/ha plus crop.

Taking a small gamble on quality, I decided to sell 400t forward last June for June 1999 collection, incorporating fall-backs for specific weight if appropriate.

As luck would have it, I need not have worried; we harvested 440 tonnes off 52.84ha (130 acres) to average 8.3t/ha (66cwt/acre) and the specific weight is over 74g/hl.

Slow going

The going was slow and the dust phenomenal, but we managed to pick up the majority of the crop and have even baled more than 6000 bales of straw on one field.

After this the Abbot was a dream to cut and has yielded even better.

We have a total of 28.92ha (71 acres) of milling wheat, 35% sown on the Oct 3 and the remainder after sugar beet in mid-Nov, mid-Dec and early Jan.

The 10.14ha sown in early Oct followed oilseed rape where the straw and stubble had been chopped and spread, and the field disced three times before drilling.We had an ideal seed-bed and plenty of moisture for an immediate germination.

The crop looked well all through the season and on the day of the A1 Farmers farm walk and crop judging session in June the field was deemed to be the best crop of wheat presented to the judge, and the farm was duly awarded the Chairmans cup amid much banter and leg-pulling.

Estimated yield of the field was 9.1t/ha (72.5cwt/acre). To date quality is unknown but, if appearances are anything to go by, should command a premium.

Assessment plots

At time of writing we still have our variety assessment plots to harvest, a field of Churchill for seed and the last sown Abbot.

Last week on this page we estimated the rape to have yielded 3.4t/ha (27cwt/acre), since then we have moved the crop by a combination of merchants haulage and our own tractor and trailer. The Saturday before last was wet so we decided to move all 100t spilling over into Sunday morning. In the final event we sold 102.07t to yield 3.49t/ha (28cwt/acre), very close indeed to harvest 1997 when we averaged 3.5t/ha.

Talking of close calls, we have had the final returns in for wheat from 1997 harvest. Our estimate for wheat this time last year was 743t or 7.16t/ha (60.6cwt/acre). Total sales add up to 757.74t or 7.77t/ha (61.9cwt/acre). The average price was £79.94/t and not the £84.50 we had forecast, mainly due to the loss of quality and, therefore, anticipated premiums for the Hereward.

Last years wheat harvest is something I would prefer to forget, this years is considerably better – so far!