By Andrew Blake

UPRIGHT crops, good yields and idle driers to date are main features of a harvest which one eastern grower is already hailing as “the harvest of a lifetime”.

“Drying costs have been negligible so far, which is really good news,” says ADASs head of arable, Julian Hayes. “Drying is often the hidden side of harvest spending and growers could ill afford it this year.

“Barley yields have not broken records. That is hardly surprising after the wet winter and spring.”

Variable oilseed rape output largely reflects establishment success, though sclerotinia also took its toll, says Mr Hayes. “But there have been some cracking yields.”

The rarity of flat crops is notable and, with hindsight, easily explained, he says. “A lot of drilling was delayed last autumn.”

Early drillers increasingly recognise the need to trim seed rates, he adds. “And there was not a lot of residual nitrogen left after winter and then farmers were held up with top dressing.”

NIAB says lack of lodging, with less than 10% in all winter barley varieties bar Halcyon, is partly the reason for better than average trial yields.

Compared with a wet year, the £5-£10/t saving on drying costs so far this season is a big bonus, adds Velcourts Keith Norman.

Dry weather in July came just in time to help crops escape the worst effects of disease, he adds. “We were on a knife-edge for a while. Early wheats off light land have been very good, so I have good hopes for yields on better soils.”

HGCA spokesman Rupert Somerscales says it is too soon to call wheat quality. “The key issue will be the weather in the next two weeks.”

But winter barley quality, assessed on 150 samples across the country, is better than last year. Average specific weight is 67.4kg/hl, over two points up on 1998. Nitrogens are 1.59 compared with last years 1.74.

“The increase in specific weights will be a help without a doubt,” says British Cereal Exports Alan Almond.

Some growers who contracted to cut wheat early to catch premiums have had to spend them on drying, notes Axients Bill Barr. Green tramlines caused by wide wheels needed to travel in the wet spring are to blame.

“My main worry is that wheats are going to be ready 10 days ahead of normal, so I question what the yields may be like, because they will have had less time for grain fill. But crops off so far are not too bad.”

Low nitrogens in malting barleys and patchy proteins in milling wheats are the only downsides in an otherwise good start, says UKASTAs Jamie Day.

“It is all going very well with barley and oilseed rape coming off fairly easily. But malting barleys down to 1.2% nitrogen are not so good in a market where maltsters want higher Ns for the big lager market.”

Norfolk grower Teddy Maufe is so incensed with what he regards as maltsters unwillingness to reward growers adequately for their efforts that he is considering setting up a Confederation of Malting Barley Growers to put the farmers point of view.