30 August 1996

Surprise at high rape yields -3.8t/ha average

Heavy yields from most arable crops have made this a harvest to remember

Suzie Horne reports

APART from frustrations like a puncture on the combine, broken axles on tractors and kids pushing round bales down steep banks and setting fire to silos, harvest at Whelan Farms in Kent is going well, with some heavy crops and good quality samples.

The harvest team has been flat out, with Andy Crow combining through the night for three nights in a row to get the rape in. When it then rained heavily last weekend there was just over 60ha (150 acres) of wheat left to cut, all of it down to stiff-strawed varieties.

On-farm bushel weight tests have been confirmed by deliveries of wheat and winter barleys so far, with Brigadier coming in at 76kg/hl and a yield estimate of 8.4t/ha (3.4t/acre), which manager Robert Kilby reckons is a conservative figure. Buster has probably yielded 7.4t/ha (3t/acre).

Winter barleys Intro and Fighter both came off at 6.4t/ha (2.6t/acre) – the best the farm has ever done, according to Mr Kilby. But Intro will be dropped next year because it tended to fall over and that cannot be risked on the farms chalk banks.

Crops are moving off the farm almost as fast as they are being cut, with feed wheat going this week at £112/t ex-farm, oats at £106/t and feed barley at £98/t.

While the nitrogen in the Chariot spring barley has been slightly disappointing at 1.83%, an earlier commitment to a contract offering payments on a sliding scale has paid off well, bringing a price of £130/t ex-farm. This is well above what the market is offering on a spot basis.

"Screenings are less than 2% and I think its done 45cwt," says Mr Kilby. Peas are being moved to a Cambridgeshire mill for £130/t ex-farm. These have yielded a pleasing 4.2t/ha (1.7t/acre), with a specific weight of 83kg/hl.

One of this harvests main surprises has been the oilseed rape, with Rapier and Apex averaging 3.8t/ha (1.55t/acre). "Weve never seen a tonne before and I was on the point of dropping it altogether," says Mr Kilby.

He has, however, decided to drop Rapier because it took twice as long to cut on identical land to that where the Apex was grown. "Its a weak-strawed variety and it just wouldnt feed. We had the same problem with Bristol." Rapier is being replaced with Amber, and all the rape has been drilled.

The farms oats are going to Southampton for export through Usborne Grain and have turned out a specific weight of 55kg/hl.

In anticipation of possible forage shortages, more straw than usual has been baled for home use, including oat, barley straw and pea haulm. A small acreage of oat straw was sold, alongside all the spring barley straw for £37/ha (£15/acre).

"Weve baled 100t of oat straw for treatment, but the way the maize is looking we might not need it," says Mr Kilby. "Ill be surprised if we dont do 12t/acre."

Sheep fodder will be boosted by 14ha (35 acres) of stubble turnips which have germinated very well and are at four true leaves now. The plan is to use these for flushing the ewes, but this depends to some extent on the progress of the store lamb market.

The farms first 150 store lambs (Suffolk x Mule wethers) went through Ashford market recently to average £41 a head before commission. A further 200 of the smallest stores were sold privately for £36 a head. "The lambs look superb at the moment," says Mr Kilby. "We hope to make £45-plus on the ewe lambs."

A four-day unannounced MAFF visit took place in mid-August, with every field measured to check up on the IACS claim. There has also been a Department of Trade and Industry spot check to ensure that the farms two-way radios are being used as licensed.

Robert Kilby (left) discusses planting priorities for the autumn with crop consultant, Nigel Jennings. Intro barley and Rapier rape are being dropped.