Farmer Focus: Scottish wheat is half its usual moisture

The rain in late July seems to have been no more than a blip in the extremely dry summer. The only rain since has been annoying amounts that have held back the combine but not done any good for newly drilled oilseed rape.

We currently have a soil moisture deficit of around 7in, when this time last year we were around field capacity. I don’t remember 1976, but from what people tell me locally, 2018 has certainly had a most devastating effect on crops.

The lack of rain has limited the potential of otherwise good winter crops, particularly wheat, but the spring barley has been most affected, with insufficient rain to sustain tillers and the ears produced being very short, with only around 18 grains per ear.

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As a result, yields of grain and particularly straw are well down and grain nitrogen levels are high, resulting in deductions against the malting price.

On a positive note, harvest is progressing well and drying costs should be well down on normal, with some wheat cut at 14.5%, a level not seen here before and half that of the wettest wheat last year.

Hopefully the dry conditions are positive for soil structure, with cracking to a decent depth, and certainly little damage being done from harvest traffic compared with normal seasons.

We are finding that many more stones are coming out this year, particularly big ones that the plough normally jumps over. I think that this must be down to the dry soil having less of a hold of them. I hope that we get them all out this year.

OSR was drilled in good time, but is very slow to grow due to the dry conditions. As a result, flea beetle is a concern, being present in high numbers, and we have had to apply insecticide to some of the crop for the first time in many years.

As we start with cereal drilling a decent night’s rain would be welcome, but no doubt we will go from one extreme to the other, so we had better push on while conditions allow.