11 September 1998

Weather brings prospect of grim Scottish harvest

CEREAL growers in parts of Scotland are grappling with potentially their worst harvest since 1985 and voluntary set-side, for some at least, appears increasingly attractive.

Near non-stop rain and fog has halted combines, flattened crops and delayed cutting by at least 10 days. Where fields of spring barley have been grabbed, yields and quality are generally poor.

"The mood has gone from one of depression to sheer resignation," says Aberdeenshire-based agronomist John Hughes of CSC CropCare. "We have had just 1.5 hours of sunshine this month."

After experiencing winter barley yields only two-thirds of expectation, many growers have barely begun to tackle spring barley, he says. "Normally most would have expected to have finished, but now there is sprouting in the ear."

For former barometer grower Doug Fowlie, nursing broken bones from a fall at Millhill, Longside, Peterborough, the three-week spell between cutting winter oilseed rape and spring barley is the longest he has witnessed; 80% of his 77ha (190 acres) of Riband wheat is flat. "We have only done 15 of our 360 acres of spring barley. I expect it will be our worst harvest ever and I cant see us making any money this year." Yields and weather were similar in the disastrous 1985 harvest, he notes.

"The snag now is that the price is so much worse." He anticipates putting up to 30% of his farm down to set-aside next season. "It wont make any money, but it should allow us to stand still while we see the direction farming is going ."

Eric Haggart, this years Perth-based Scottish barometer grower, believes most farmers in his area are opting for the maximum 50% set-aside for the coming season.

Fraserburgh-based Sandy Greig of Allied Grain reckons spring barley output will be 1.2t/ha (0.5t/acre) down on normal with indifferent quality. In Tayside and Fife, where colleague Alan Macauley estimates 75% of the crop is cut, the view is the same.

"A lot more people with low fixed costs are thinking about having more set-aside," says Mr Hughes. "But without low fixed costs they are caught like a rat in a wheel. They have got to continue farming to get the return or think about getting out now. It is a depressing picture and hard to see the way forward."

lTrade talk of a record wheat crop is over-the-top, maintains northern barometer grower Keith Snowball. He finished his own crop at High Farm, Brandsby, N Yorks at midnight on Monday after 28mm (1.1in) of rain on Friday with a final yield estimated at 9.2-9.9t/ha (3.7-4t/acre). "It was worth waiting for. But a lot of second wheats did not yield well and there is still a lot of corn to cut further north. The trade is just talking the price down." &#42

SCOTTISH GLOOM

&#8226 Harvest struggle.

&#8226 Ripening delayed.

&#8226 Barley disappointment.

&#8226 Voluntary set-aside up?