Harvest 2023: Stuttering start in between the showers

Harvest 2023 has got off to a stuttering start, with catchy weather frustrating many, though those farmers with barley in the bin say quality and yield are satisfactory.

One of the first to go was Tim Sykes, who farms just over 400ha in south-east Hampshire, who took his first crop of Tardis winter feed barley at the end of last week.

Harvested by contractors MJ Tosdevine on 40ha of rented ground at Denmead, to the north of Portsmouth, the crop came off at 14.5-15% moisture, with an estimated yield of 8t/ha.

See also: Winter barley harvest kicks off in Shropshire

There was no need for the dryer and the crop has already been picked up by cereal buyer Cefetra and hauled to storage in the South West.

“It’s the earliest we’ve ever harvested, but then we drilled it quite early, too,” said Mr Sykes.

“The crop looked fit throughout the growing period, but I think it put most of its energy into growing tall, with plenty of straw, despite the use of three growth regulators.”

Since the barley was cut, attention has turned to the other crops, with the oilseed rape desiccated this week.

For contractor Lewis Tosdevine, it was good to get the combines rolling. The firm cuts about 1,400ha a season – both on owned land and for others – using three Claas Lexion 750 TTs.

“We did the two days at Denmead, but ground to a halt after that, though we do expect to get going again at the end of this week,” he said.

Mr Tosdevine also grabbed a moment to get his drone out and get some footage of the combine in action.

Contractors MJ Tosdevine harvesting barley

Contractors MJ Tosdevine harvesting barley 2023 © Lewis Tosdevine

Unsettled outlook

Another early starter was Richard Maddever of Scotts Farm, Cavendish, in Suffolk.

“Last year was our earliest ever, as we cut barley on 27 June. We thought we’d be doing the same again and got the combine out, but then it started drizzling.

“We finally got going on Monday [3 July]. With an unsettled outlook, we wanted to at least get some done, and ease ourselves into harvest.

Richard Maddever harvesting winter malting barley

Richard Maddever harvesting winter malting barley 2023 © Richard Maddever

“We did about 10ha of Electrum winter malting barley, which came off at about 15.5-16% moisture, and yield seemed about average, or a little bit below. We normally get about 8t/ha.

“Electrum is marketed by Syngenta as the earliest maturing of all winter malting barleys, which makes it a good tool to have in our rotation.”

While some of Mr Maddever’s grain, taken from about 1,000ha of arable ground near the Essex/Suffolk border, goes to Camgrain, the majority is stored and dried on farm.

“Our floor dryer is powered by 100kW of solar panels on the roof, which we put up in 2015, so our drying costs are minimal,” said Mr Maddever.

While much of the farm’s barley is now ready to cut, the wheat is still at least three weeks off. “It’s still looking pretty green, which is a good sign given the lack of rain we’ve had. At least it’s not droughted off.”

The Met Office recently pronounced June 2023 as the hottest June on record, but its outlook for July is more variable.

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