Farmer Focus: Prices put a dampener on harvest

A mixed bag is probably the best description for harvest 2014, whether in reference to the weather, crop yield or grain sales. On the whole we have been very lucky here, with harvesting conditions through July and early August.

The grain dryer wasn’t switched on for the rape or the barley at all. August, as usual, seems to throw a spanner in the works – with one-quarter of our harvest to finish, it has turned into a frustrating stop-start affair, snatching wheat before the next downpour arrives.

Yields have been extremely variable in all crops, with some very good results combined with some poorer results.

I think overall it will be an average harvest here which, when you cast your mind back over the past 24 months, will not be that bad.

Commodity prices, though, will take the shine off this year’s harvest unless crops were sold well early on. We have stuck to a similar risk management strategy here over the past decade with regards to grain selling. Our Hear rape is grown on contract with Frontier, which every year has come up trumps in terms of price. Our cereals policy has been to put 20% into pools and sell 10% forward. The pool has generally meant we get a good average price and this year what we sold early looks amazing now. There are too many people moaning about grain prices at the moment who have had the opportunity to sell a safe percentage of their crop at some very good prices. It will be very interesting to see what they do for next year.

Oilseed rape establishment is going well with our subsoiler, seeder and fertiliser applicator all in one machine. The first plantings are now emerging and fields are walked on a daily basis for slugs and flea beetle damage. We’re not seeing any at present, but here is a question for you: why do flea beetles not appear to damage volunteer rape?

Stale seed-bed spraying is now the main focus of attention, with blackgrass just emerging on cultivated rape stubble.

Jon Parker manages 1,500ha near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, on a medium to heavy land for Ragley Home Farms, predominantly arable growing wheat, oilseed rape, and salad onions. There is also a beef-fattening unit and sheep flock.

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