Video: Harvest 2022 – Night harvest cuts bean yield losses

High temperatures and dry conditions triggered Somerset farmer Richard Payne to harvest his spring bean crop through the night to avoid costly yield penalties.

Crops were so dry and brittle during the day that bean pods would otherwise shatter as the combine cut through them.

Harvesting in the night from 8pm-1am, when temperatures were cooler and moisture contents higher, diminished header losses by half.

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Drought-struck yields

In a tricky growing season hit by drought, with just 35% of average annual rainfall, yields were already down 50% on what Mr Payne hoped for.

“Pods aborted in the heat. Where there should be four beans, many only had two. I will be amazed if this crop does 1t/acre [2.5t/ha].

If it wasn’t for harvesting at night, yield losses  would be half again. But moisture levels are coming in well at 13.5% and beans are showing good size and colour.


Average rainfall for this time of year at Mr Payne’s farm, near Heathfield on the outskirts of Taunton, should be 800mm, but a mere 280mm has fallen since January.

The crop was drilled at the beginning of March, following a crop of stubble turnips which were grazed by sheep. But with some poaching and a prolonged dry period post-drilling, the soil quickly hardened like concrete.

Crops used up vital energy reserves to break through the surface, making them susceptible to bean weevil attack – so much so that Mr Payne regrettably had to apply an insecticide, after not using any last year.

“The 16ha field looked poor all season, but our earlier drilled spring bean crops performed better at 4t/ha,” he says.

Another more promising later-drilled bean crop is to be cut in two to three weeks’ time. Mr Payne remains optimistic these yields will be closer to his 5t/ha aim.

harvesting spring beans at night

© MAG/Emma Gillbard

Andy Fussell, Fussell Farms

Andy Fussell who also farms in Somerset was another farmer to cut a crop of contracted spring beans through the night, saving a remarkable 1.2t/ha, compared to cutting in the day.

“We just couldn’t believe the yield difference,” he says.

“The beans were shattering everywhere in the afternoon. I had seen this before, but not to this extent. The beans were so brittle. We were losing a lot of yield, so I knew something had to change.”

Initially, he tried cutting the crop at a faster rate, helping to cushion the crop and reduce header losses, but this proved ineffective.

He then tried cutting in the late evening, where the cooler temperatures improved crop moisture content, allowing for a successful cut with yields at 4.2t/ha.

“We harvested from 9pm-3am and were really pleased with yields. Credit goes to our 17-year-old apprentice, Sam Hodgson, who helped the entire night.”

Overall, Mr Fussell says harvest has been pleasing, with older winter wheat variety Shabras hitting 9.8t/ha as a second wheat.

The real challenge has been the very high grain temperatures of 33-34C. Cooling grain down in store to a minimum of 12C is proving very costly given the energy price hike.


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