Hesitant start to harvest – but the UK is not alone

Slow progress with harvesting this season’s oilseed rape and winter barley crops looked set to continue earlier this week against a forecast of few combining opportunities.

But with little oilseed rape safely in store and no more than 10% of the barley cut because of weather-induced delays, UK growers were not alone.

United Oilseeds’ Ian Munnery, just back from an exploratory trip to France where harvest was normally expected earlier, said little headway had been made there.

“From Paris back to the Channel crossing I could count on one hand the number of oilseed rape fields completely cut,” he said.

Colleague Richard Elsdon estimated the UK percentage was a “low single figure”.

“A fair amount is just about ready but the forecast’s not good. I’m starting to worry a little. It’s time it was combined.”

Fortunately there were no reports of shedding. “But it’s only a matter of time.”

Over 80% of today’s rape crops were desiccated rather than swathed, and growers who had applied glyphosate rather than diquat were less likely to lose yield from shedding, noted Mr Munnery.

“The pods stay more rubbery. But with the amount of rain we’ve had some people have gone back to swathing because they just couldn’t get the sprays on.”

However, even in normal seasons most rape was not harvested until the second and third week of July. “I’m still not panicking. The concern is that we may get chitted seed if it stays damp too long.”

Key advice, as further delays seemed inevitable, was to be prepared to cut whenever physically possible, drying and cooling as required. “Even if it’s 11% go and get it. You can’t afford to wait.”

Harlow Agricultural Merchants’ Ian Low said a fair area of oilseed rape had been gathered in east and south Essex. “But I’ve not heard of a good yield yet.”

After travels as far afield as Yorkshire he had seen nothing to make him feel optimistic, April’s drought and recent shortage of sunshine having taken their toll. “I suspect yields will be below average.”

Initial malting barley samples suggested grain nitrogen were surprisingly lower than last season’s, said Frontier’s Jonathan Hoyland.

“They’re perhaps 0.05% down. We were all geared up for some high levels after the dry weather. But the sheer amount of rain we’ve had and secondary tillering means the N has probably been used up.”

The findings, from the first 200 of the firm’s expected 7000 samples of the winter crop, might have been varietally skewed, he added.

“We’ve seen more samples of Flagon, which is inherently lower N, than Pearl.”

Screenings did not match last year’s “vintage” levels, but growers were pleasantly surprised, he said. Ear losses had so far also generally been low. “Grain quality will be on a knife edge this week, but one of the benefits is that much of the crop isn’t yet fully ripe. I still have some fingernails left.”

On Farmers Weekly’s midlands Barometer farm in Lincolnshire, where barely 4% of the 770ha oilseed rape crop was combined by Monday, Ben Atkinson reckoned the 2007 harvest was fast becoming one for bachelors. “Get it while you can,” he said.


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