Growers and agronomists in the parched south and east of the country were keeping their fingers crossed earlier this week that forecast rain would come in time to avoid significant yield losses.
Noting that East Anglia had only 2.2mm in April against its average 45mm, a Met Office spokesman predicted most parts would receive 20-30mm, probably during Wednesday/Thursday.
An end to the mini-drought came on Bank Holiday Monday,with parts of Wiltshire having up to 25mm. But elsewhere showers were few and far between, leaving fears for spring crops, in particular, unabated.
The 8-10mm which fell on Thrift Farm, Royston, in Hertfordshire,was particularly welcome, said Farmers Weekly’s Farmer of the Year Robert Law.
“We had an almighty dollop, which has really freshened things up, as they were getting pretty dire. Spring barley’s been really struggling on the gravel.”
All pulses could do with rain, said the PGRO’s Anthony Biddle. Beans and peas established in March were “OK”, but later sowings were distinctly patchy.
“Weevils have had a field day, and we’ve already seen pea aphids in the southeast and the fens, which is unusually early.”
Winter wheat on light land and spring sowings remained AICC member Steve Cook’s main concerns after only 1mm of rain on Monday in north-east Hampshire. “Spring barleys are beginning to bolt and they need rain to hold them back.”
Many winter wheat stands were thinner than usual, but thanks to the long dry spell, which had checked septoria, they had better-than-normal canopies.
“The potential is still there. If we get rain, a T3 could be useful to boost production, but if not there’ll be very little benefit in it.”
Frontier Agriculture’s Bob Mills said he could not recall crops being so far forward for the time of year and what might happen was unpredictable. “I don’t think we’ve ever been here before.”
Many wheats were at full flag leaf emergence, with booting and the start of ear emergence widespread. “With ears emerging now, harvest could be in the first half of July, or there could be a prolonged grain-fill period -or crops just might sit and do nothing.”
Spring barley was his main worry. Emergence was variable, with even early-sown crops going backwards recently. “I can’t help thinking that there has to have been a yield and quality penalty.”
TAG’s David Parish believed the 8mm of rain that fell in his Bedfordshirearea was useful. “But we could do with another inch.”
However, while it should help enhance wheat proteins by encouraging fertiliser uptake, it could overdo N in malting barleys. “It cuts both ways. With rain returning, I’d also be wary about septoria given that everyone’s been focusing on brown rust.”
WET WEEKEND BEET SAVIOUR?
Suffolk AICC member Stephen Cousins reckoned recent rain was just in time for sugar beet in his area. “We had half an inch over the weekend, and the seed’s now sitting in moisture for the first time this season.”
In the Bury St Edmunds area, where an estimated quarter of the crop was not yet emerged and many more growers than usual were irrigating to get sowings going, perhaps 20% of yield was already lost, according to Broom’s Barn’s Mike May.
But only areas with fewer than 40,000 plants a hectare were worth re-drilling at this stage, he advised. “Even then, we’re right on the cusp.”