9 August 2002

Storms bring Yorks havoc

By Wendy Short

North-east correspondent

NORTH Yorks suffered some of the worst weather last week with flooding and hailstorms creating havoc with harvest, wrecking winter barley, spoiling oilseed rape and creating worries for wheat to come.

Near Thirsk, Kevin Littleboy recorded 170mm (6.7in) of rain in less than a week. Fortunately for him, barley and oilseed rape had been cleared on his Howe Estate farm, but wheat has suffered serious damage and he is worried the crop will sprout.

"The effect on crops all along the A1 north of Boroughbridge has been devastating," he says.

"Swathed oilseed rape is lying absolutely wrecked, while winter beans have been hammered flat. The hail has also stripped the leaves off potato plants and one of my fields is still lying in water."

Wheats need good weather if they are to be saved, he adds. "My own crops have lodged and I am fearful that they will sprout. Early-sown wheats are most at risk because they are ready to go."

At Knayton, Thirsk, a freak hailstorm wiped out 85% of Gerry Browns oilseed rape crop. It will hardly be worth the effort to harvest one 10.5ha (25 acre) field, he says.

"It had been desiccated three days previously and the hot weather had made it very brittle. So when the enormous hailstones descended the pods just came away. If I didnt have my own combine I probably wouldnt bother to harvest it."

A neighbouring 6.5ha (16 acre) field not yet desiccated still lost nearly one-third its yield, he estimates.

Straw has been hit, too, with merchants such as Brian Peacock not relishing the prospect of picking up sodden swaths. He has 809ha (2000 acres) of winter barley to bale in the Thirsk area and without some prolonged sunshine soon he reckons he will be in trouble.

While the triangle between Thirsk, Ripon and Northallerton caught some of the worst weather, independent agronomist Patrick Stephenson says most of the main arable areas in North Yorks have had 50-70mm (2-2.8in) of rain over the past fortnight, severely hampering harvest.

With about 20% of the winter barley still to cut he says growers could be facing serious losses.

"I expect yield losses of about 1-1.5t/acre. In many cases, the crop is very ripe and there has been a lot of brackling. Plant heads are on the ground and what is left is likely to go for feed. That will have a considerable impact on profits."

Remaining oilseed rape prospects are also depressing, potential yields of 3.7-5t/ha (30-40cwt/acre) having been cut by at least 0.6t/ha (5cwt/acre), says Mr Stephenson.

"That is not a disaster but a crop that was to be one of the highlights of the year will now only reach average yields."

Wheat is 7-10 days off harvest on most farms and sprouting is not a worry yet, but could soon become an issue if the wet weather continues, he adds. &#42

WHAT WEATHER!

* 170mm (7in) of rain in a week.

* Winter barley ruined.

* Oilseed rape yields spoiled.

* Wheat worries mounting.

Rainfall record

Met Office reports confirm land around Leeming, near Richmond, had the highest rainfall in the country during the week ending Aug 6, with 135.2mm (5.25in) – three times the monthly average. Of that, 26mm (1in) fell in one hour.

WHATWEATHER

&#8226 170mm (7in) of rain in a week for some.

&#8226 Winter barley ruined.

&#8226 Oilseed rape yields spoiled.

&#8226 Wheat worries mounting.

Spotlight on FWs eastern barometer

Barley is the highlight of Peter Wombwells harvest so far at Rectory Farm, Ickleton, near Saffron Walden in Essex. With what was once hoped to be milling wheat sitting sodden in the field it looks like staying that way.

Combines have not moved for nearly a fortnight after 65mm (2.6in) of rain in the week to Monday. "That is an awful lot considering the annual average here is only 20in," he says.

Two-thirds of the 36ha (90-acre) Nitouche pea crop had been cleared when the monsoon struck. Up to then quality was excellent, but yield a little disappointing at 4t/ha (32cwt/acre).

"They are a beautiful duck-egg blue and should command a premium. But what is left in the field is as black as a hat. Even if the yield is not down the quality will have gone."

With 80% of his wheat in milling varieties Malacca, Xi19 and Option Mr Wombwell is similarly concerned for that crop. "The Malacca was fit before the rain and the Xi19 was close. I would not be surprised if the Hagberg has gone and the ears have gone black as black can be."

That is despite a 0.3 litre/ha Amistar (azoxystrobin) earwash, he adds.

Oilseed rape and Pearl barley have been cleared, bucking national trends of bumper OSR and mediocre winter barley yields.

"The Pearl did about 3.4t/acre, which I was knocked out by. That is very good." Early nitrogen, before the April drought struck, was the secret, he believes.

Samples look fantastic, too, though they are still to be tested for nitrogen, as the grain is not contracted to move until November. But even if the full £12/t premium over feed is obtained Mr Wombwell is considering kicking the malting crop into touch.

"This boycott meeting (see p51) is a jolly good idea. We have got to do something about the situation."

Madrigal and Canberra oilseed rapes were pretty much on a par finishing just under 4t/ha (32cwt/acre) across 66ha (163 acres), about average for the farm. One highlight was a field drilled with wider, 24cm rows.

"We think it yielded slightly better and it was far easier to harvest. We shall drill it all at wider spacings this autumn." That is unless wet weather continues, in which case the spinner will come out and seed will be broadcast into standing wheat, he adds.