Barometer farm spotlight: Worst ever harvest weather for James Wray

Bad – but not the worst, is father’s verdict. James Wray’s harvest 2008 has clearly been the worst he has experienced in his 10 years at Dungiven, Co Londonderry.

It’s been rain, rain, rain,” he said earlier this week. “It’s been a real struggle and still is.”

By last Sunday, when his two New Holland 17ft cut combines were yet again halted by a further downpour, only half the farm’s 80ha (200 acres) of wheat and a fifth of the 80ha (200 acres) of spring barley had been cut.

Although his 24ha (60 acres) of Retriever winter barley was combined a week later than usual, after it was slow to ripen even after glyphosate treatment, it turned in a respectable yield and was at least dry and in store.

“I just wish we’d had more,” said Mr Wray. “We’d cut back from 150 acres last season.

“But, apparently, it’s not the worst ever harvest weather here. According to my father we’re getting off lightly. In 1985 he lost all his potatoes to flooding and waterlogging.

“Grain moisture is very high – mid to high 20% – and straw is almost impossible to get to.”

At least we are moving, he points out. “It may be a wet slow struggle, but it’s a salvage job that we’re presently winning.”

James Wray

Porridge grain? James Wray praises his batch drier but has had to rethink his potato harvesting policy

In 1985 the ground was so saturated that when there was a brief break in the rain the farm still couldn’t do anything, he said.

“This year we’ve been taking advantage of any dry day that’s come along.”

To help keep the combines moving, their grain tanks had been only half-filled to reduce the weight, said Mr Wray. Even so a tyre-size lesson has been learned.

“Our TX 36 is on 900s, but the TX62 only has 600s. The combine on 600s has been stuck twice, but the other has yet to be beaten.”

Whether he could afford investing in 900s for the TX62 remained to be seen ahead of anticipated outlay on a replacement potato harvester.

The Opico batch grain drier had been a life saver, he said.

“When we do get a break in the weather it’s not long before there’s a big build up of grain at high moisture. But there’s usually plenty of time to get it dried as we never get two days harvesting in a row.”

The machine can dry 12t of grain at 25% to 15% in about three hours. “The important thing is that once it’s dry and cooled we don’t have to blow it any more.”

Having baled all the winter barley straw he had decided to chop the wheat. It was becoming impossible to salvage any more straw and there were plenty of other reasons to chop, he said.

“Combining wet straw needs a couple of days to dry that we don’t have. Turning it several times is an expensive waste of time, diesel and wages. The quality suffers and yield is reduced.

“Fertiliser prices are high and our arable land has a real lack of organic matter.”

The first of the wheat varieties, Oakley, had delivered well but not up to the level relayed by Northern Ireland Farmer Focus writer Allan Chambers (Arable 12 September), he noted.

“Yield and quality is always deceiving when the grain’s so wet, but it’s definitely done 4t/acre.”

About 16ha (40 acres) of standing Westminster spring barley had turned in a pleasing “2.5-2.8t/acre”.

“We have another 40 acres that’s flat but liftable. So if we get a few dry days it may be slow to cut but should be saveable.

“All the Quench is still standing. It’s really a case of any field that had chicken litter has gone down.”

About a quarter his 100ha (250 acres) of potatoes had received their first application of Reglone (diquat) in the hope that lifting could begin in two weeks’ time.

“The sprayer tracks will cause harvesting problems, but if things dry up they are liftable.”

Despite high blight pressure he had seen no signs of the disease. “We managed to get on the ground every seven to eight days with Shirlan (fluazinam), which seems to have protected the crop well.”

But with blackleg bound to be troublesome, Mr Wray was negotiating a deal for a second-hand self-propelled Grimme SF1700 harvester to replace his trailed machine, which did not have a picking table.

“It’ll cost over £100,000, but it should be worth it,” he said.

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