Farmer Focus: A brief history of harvests

Without wanting to sound old, this is roughly my thirtieth harvest actively involved on the family farm, having started as a young teenager. A lot has changed since the late 80s.

Back then, key operations included setting fire to harvested fields and filling barns by hand with small straw bales. The arable area was much smaller, but we had a bigger team. Telescopic handlers were the new wonder kit.

Cereals were much lower yielding and oilseed rape a novel crop.

See also: Harvest 2020: The 5 top-yielding wheat varieties map

On a good day we might have harvested 12ha. Everything was ploughed after combining and we were just starting to use a new wonder chemical called glyphosate to control couch grass.

In 2020, I still find harvest as exciting and challenging as back then. This year, we have had a fresh farm team and I was anxious about how things would pan out.

I am exceptionally proud of how the team have gelled together and methodically worked through a large workload in a challenging season.

I also totally rely on the input from my parents and wife (who now has a particular passion for the dairy enterprise) to get everything done properly.

Today we can routinely cut about 40ha/day of high-yielding crops with one combine and only a single trailer support. We have managed to keep pace with straw clearance and simultaneously drill oilseed rape from early August onwards with a minimal team.

Heatwave conditions have also brought particular challenges; we have had to be meticulous about blowing off the combine and cooling down hot grain.

Rural roads have been busy with holidaymakers forced into staycations, so moving the combine around has been a logistical nightmare.

In terms of results; the overview is that cereals have been pleasing and oilseed rape yields time-warped back to when we first started growing the crop. Extase was the best-performing wheat variety.

With a distinctly autumnal feel to the weather, finishing the harvest may be a protracted affair.

I very much hope I will have the gift of good health to be involved with another 30 harvests, but the changes ahead will be much more dramatic than those of the past, principally driven by accelerating climate change.

Here’s hoping commodity prices move upwards from those of today to bring just reward for our investment and hard work.