Harvest roundup: Farmers chase rare sunny spells

Winter barley harvest is well under way across much of the country, although rain continues to hamper efforts to get the crops in.

In Wiltshire, barley harvest was more than halfway through, according to Nick Brown, store manager at Wiltshire Grain, and malting quality has been better than expected.

“Yields have been average or below average. Some has been very bad, but the majority of the Cassata has been better than expected,” he says. “In a normal year, you’d probably downgrade it to feed, but this year it will probably make malt.” Although there had been some skinning, nitrogen contents and bushelweights were acceptable, at 1.55-1.6% and 54-67kg/hectolitre, respectively. “It really is a mixed bag.”

Oilseed rape yields were either average or below average, with oil contents at about 42.5%, says Mr Brown. But wheat harvest was still about two weeks away, and the prospects were not very promising. “We’re just praying that crops will be better than people think once the combine gets in there.”

In Cambridgeshire, winter barley yields were better than average, says Philip Darke at Camgrain. “Nitrogen contents are very low at about 1.65%, and bushelweights are good.” By Tuesday the store had taken in about 20,000t of grain, with harvest 10 to 14 days later than normal.

“Oilseed rape yields are 10-12% down on last year’s record levels, and oil contents are also lower,” he says.

However, wheat was looking particularly poor. “It has clearly died off, and the samples are quite shrivelled. Quality is going to be all over the shop and we’ll have to be very careful with mycotoxins.”

“We’re just praying that crops will be better than people think once the combine gets in there.”
Nick Brown

Wheat and spring barley suffered badly from grain loss and ear death during the wet flowering period, said David Neale, national agronomist at Agrii. Winter barley could be the crop of year, despite producing average yields at best. Oilseed rape was also yielding about average, at 3-3.7t/ha, he says. “The big problem has been the long flowering window, so there’s a range of maturity.”

In Suffolk, hailstorms had damaged some crops near Ipswich, says Martin Pratt who farms at Nedging Tye. “Some places have taken quite a bit of damage – there are fields of oilseed rape which look quite white, where the seed has been shed.” Fortunately, he had already cut 60ha of Camelot and Cabernet, which averaged 4.15t/ha according to the combine.

Further north, unsettled weather had kept combines under wraps across much of Northern Ireland, Northern England and Scotland. “I haven’t even made my first cut silage yet, because we haven’t had two dry days together,” says Stuart Fuller-Shapcott, who farms at Sweethope, Kelso.

“I’m actually thinking of buying a 4wd drive combine, because it is so wet underfoot. The tramlines are alright, but I’m very nervous of travelling anywhere else.”

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