Harvest 2018: Growers struggle to keep OSR from drying out

Worryingly low moisture levels are causing problems for growers as they start on the oilseed rape harvest two weeks earlier than normal.

Many are being forced to try to take advantage of morning dews to push moisture levels above the 6% needed to avoid incurring penalties with merchants.

When Essex grower David Lord started combining his rapeseed on Monday (9 July), moisture levels were reading at 7.5%, but he was forced to stop after they dropped to just 6.5%.

See also: Advice on establishing oilseed rape in difficult conditions

“We started again Tuesday [10 July] morning when it read 8.5% at 7am, but the problem is we aren’t even getting dews, and the moment the sun comes out we have to stop,” he said.

Wheat is shrivelling

Despite being two weeks early, Mr Lord is relatively pleased with his crop of Palmedor high eurcic acid rape (Hear) oilseed rape, with yields averaging at 3.7t/ha, not adjusted for moisture content.

While the 16ha of winter barley Mr Lord has already harvested achieved 8.2t/ha, above the 7.5t/ha he was hoping to achieve as a minimum, his hopes for the wheat crop are shrivelling along with the grains.

“What looked like nice plump grains are now beginning to look like chicken feed on the lighter land,” he said.

Elsewhere in Essex, wheat on heavy land is looking better. James Benton, who farms 809ha with his brother, said his wheat still has a bit of green in it and hasn’t yet died.

Daniel Low started harvesting the 161ha of oilseed rape variety Barbados on the farm on Monday (9 June).

Mr Benton said the first 14ha harvested looks alright, yielding about 3.7t/ha.

“Half a tonne an acre isn’t bad for us; we don’t get much rain here in a normal year. We are on heavy clay soils so might get a bit more as harvest continues,” he said.

Fire risk

Moisture levels are also a problem for Leicestershire grower Joe Stanley. For the first time ever he is harvesting his rapeseed crop before his winter barley – three weeks earlier than usual.

“We normally start the barley on 15 July, with the rape two weeks later. More unusually, we haven’t needed to desiccate,” he says, with the crop still registering between 7-8% moisture content.

“It’s a positive that we haven’t desiccated from the fire risk point of view.

“There have been a number of incidents on social media – for once, Twitter has been a useful and positive influence in making growers aware of the risks of this dry weather.”

The crop of Eraton Hear oilseed rape is yielding about 4t/ha, which is what you would expect, Mr Stanley said, but is disappointing considering how the crop looked a month ago.

Last year Mr Stanley harvested his barley early on 30 June, but his switch to feed variety Cassia this year means he will be harvesting at a more normal time. He is hoping to achieve 8t/ha.

The rapeseed harvest has also started for Hampshire farmer Graham Tosdevine. He had a combine in each of his barley and his oilseed rape at the start of the week as both crops were ready at the same time.

“We have started slightly early, but we do usually start both crops at the same time, it’s always a toss-up over which crop goes first.”

While crops are varying slightly, and a little bit of brown seed has been seen in the rapeseed, Mr Tosdivine is happy with both crops, considering the weather.

The rapeseed is yielding 3.7t/ha, with moisture levels about 7.6%.