Harvest off to an early but slow start

Harvest was off to an early, but slow start, with combines making sporadic progress since they started rolling in late June.

Although many farmers started combining about a week to 10 days earlier than normal, showery rain had hampered progress. Initial yield reports appeared extremely varied, with crops on heavy land, particularly in the west, faring considerably better than those on light land in the east.

In Suffolk, Flagon winter barley yields had been very disappointing at Needham Hall Farm, Gazeley. “The yield was rubbish, at just 4.4t/ha – it died off due to the drought,” said Mark Turner. “Cutting on 1 July is the earliest I can remember. It had a lot of regrowth in the dead spots; it will have a lot of screenings.”

Although many crops were yielding below average, many were better than expected following the dry spring. Cassia winter barley yielded 5t/ha at 13.7% moisture at Ed Lankfer’s Laurel Farm, Wereham, Norfolk. “I’ve heard of some really poor yields, so on the whole we’re quite pleased.”

Winter wheat looked well on the heavy ground, but had suffered badly on the sand, he added. “The spring barley is greener now than it was in May; since the rain it’s all come back to life and put more tillers out. And the sugar beet looks amazing – it’s the best crop I’ve ever seen.”

On the Essex/Hertfordshire border, crops looked very mixed, said agronomist Charles Carter. “On the light land, crops did burn out in June, and some people have started cutting winter barley where it’s died off completely. But on heavy land the crops don’t look too bad.”

John Humphreys, arable products manager at co-op AtlasFram, said there was a lot of stem-based fusarium in wheat, as well as verticilium wilt in oilseed rape. “Rapeseed pods have filled quite nicely and farmers are desiccating a week earlier than normal. Most people are itching to get combining, but as the rain has come, there’s been some regrowth in barley, which they’re now having to desiccate.

“At the moment, barley yields are on the low side, at 3-5t/ha, but the better crops are yet to be cut.” Wheat was ripening quickly and yields would range from 10% to 30% down, he predicted. “I think we’ll be 15% down overall.”

In Kent, Weald Granary had only seen five loads of barley and oilseed rape by Tuesday (12 July). “That’s about average. It will be about 10 days before we see any wheat,” said administration manager Francesca Lewis. “Some people have said yields will be alright, while others have lost a whole crop.”

Further west, the prognosis was rather better. Winter barley yields had been pleasing in Pitney, Somerset, and wheat crops looked better than expected, said contractor Tony Higgins of WJ Higgins & Son. Winter barley yields ranged from 8t/ha to 8.65t/ha at 14-14.5% moisture. “Considering the spring and summer we’ve had, I was very pleased with the results; it was almost 1t/acre more than I thought we were going to get,” he said.

French progress

• Oilseed rape yields down 2.5% on last year (much better than expected) and quality is good

• Winter barley yields down 11.5% on last year, spring barley down 20%

• Wheat down 18%, but quality excellent

Source: ODA.

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