Harvest 2023: Localised showers sees variable barley yields in Berks

Berkshire farmer Colin Rayner made a start to winter barley harvest last week, but isolated rain showers throughout the growing season has resulted in very variable yields.

His first crop to reach the combine was six-row variety Sensation with a yield of 6.8t/ha and specific weight of 60kg/hl at Stubbings Farm, near Windsor.

“This was one of the best looking crops of barley I have grown for years, but it produced a lower yield and bushel weight than usual. There’s not a lot of straw either, but at least it is dry,” he says.

See also: Harvest 2023: Share your harvest photos and videos

Localised rain showers throughout grain-fill seemed to constantly miss the area, limiting yield potential to below the 8t/ha farm average.

However, his crop of six-row variety Kingsbarn grown just 10 miles away, yielded an impressive 11t/ha with a specific weight of 65kg/hl.

“Despite being grown on a more drought-prone block of land, we were really impressed with how the Kingsbarn performed. It seemed to get the rain showers when it needed it,” says Colin.

Moisture contents have ranged from 12.5% to 14.5%. 

Price drop

But there is concern at the price of winter barley, which lies £100/t down on last year.

“The price of barley straight off the combine was £240/t in 2022. Today it’s £140-£150/t. Why is food still going up in the supermarkets as commodity prices have fallen dramatically since 2022?,” Colin asks.

He notes that some farmers may have already sold winter barley forward to make the most of the higher prices, but this is something he doesn’t tend to do until he knows what he has safely harvested in the shed.

Oilseed rape is now ready for harvest, while wheats have suffered in the drought. Colin explains it has been yet another year of weather extremes.

“We have had one of the wettest Aprils and first half of Mays and driest, hottest Junes, but as farmers we have to adapt.”

Colin runs two combines – a Claas Lexion and a Massey Ferguson 36 straw walker which he uses to bale straw for livestock farmers.

Farming succession

This year Colin invited his triplet daughters Isabelle, Victoria and Alice to become directors of the family farming business at Rayner Farms on International Women’s Day (8 March).

He is excited to be working with them and to implement the changes and ideas they would like to make. Although he says “some might be hard to stomach”.

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