Rising concerns over wheat drilling delays

Concerns are rising as some growers, particularly in the north, have yet to start their wheat drilling, as Luke Casswell discovers

The waiting game is wearing thin for many as the wet weather continues to delay drilling, raising fears of the longer-term impact on rotations with forced fallowing of land.

The “summer 2012 rainfall amount” released by the Met Office highlights which parts of the UK have been worst affected by this year’s wet weather. It also shows the sheer quantity of rain experienced by the whole of the UK.

One grower in the highest rainfall area (170% above average) is David Hall from Blackhill Farms in Northumberland, who described this year’s drilling as “going very slow”. He still had at least 260ha to plant on his farm and he feared some will be left fallow. “We’re not sticking to the rotation this year, we’re just going to see what we can get in and where, and make the most of what we’ve got,” he said.

Mr Hall added that if the weather changed, drilling worries would ease. “We were at a similar stage last year, but then the weather at the start of October really helped us and we were able to finish in reasonable time.”

However, Preston farmer Martin Lawrenson from Northwoods Farm has been unable to start any cereal drilling. “This time last year we’d drilled all the winter barley, but this year we’ve yet to begin. While others seemed to have had at least a break in the weather, we’ve not had a decent spell for four or five weeks.

“We’ve got about 40 to 50 acres under water and just cannot get on the land at the moment,” he said.

Looking on the bright side, Mr Lawrenson admitted the potato harvest was going slightly better. With about half lifted, however, he’s still mindful of the weather needing to improve in order to finish this year’s potato harvest.

On the other side of the Pennines, Catherine Thompson at Holme House, Holme on Spalding Moor, Yorkshire has seen newly drilled crops become flooded. “I drilled some winter barley at the weekend and now it’s flooded – the only reason we drilled that field is because we couldn’t travel on the fields it was meant to go into,” she added.

“We’re on heavy clay here and it’s far too wet to plough now.”

North of the border in Scotland, NFUS combinable crops chairman Andrew Moir has fared relatively well on his farm near Laurencekirk, Aberdeenshire, with most drilling completed. However, he admits this is not the case across the whole of Scotland, with harvest still going on for some and drilling problems arising for many.

“In Ayrshire they’ve had an appalling spell of weather and some can’t get on the land at all. Those that are, are making an appalling mess. I know that some farmers are not even trying to put new crops in.

“There’s a real feeling of despair, I don’t think anyone’s seen anything like it,” said Mr Moir.

East Lothian farmer James Logan pointed out that it was the first time in 25 years that he hadn’t managed to start drilling in September.

“Every time we get 3mm to 4mm of rain, everything grinds to a halt, whereas in other years you could be back on the land soon after,” he said.

Mr Logan is also struggling to lift potatoes. “The land is extremely wet, which has made lifting potatoes very slow. We’re up to saturation point. I know it’s bad when a borehole in one of our fields is overflowing.

“I can’t see us getting all the winter wheat in, and although we grow a lot of spring crops anyway, I think we could end up having too much spring barley”

Mr Logan believes this year’s problems will have a major impact on the farm, with crop rotation becoming variable and damage to the soil structure providing an unwanted legacy for years.

HGCA Recommended List wheat results

While 2012 turned out to be a year to forget as far as yields and quality are concerned, it proved to be a good season for putting new varieties to the test.

As HGCA Recommended List manager Simon Oxley pointed out, the star performers included the Group 4 feed variety KWS Santiago, which yielded 108% of the average of the control varieties, and this is consistent with the five-year figure of 107%.

Quality is nothing to shout about, but based on yield, Crusoe has maintained its position and also held its own, showing effective disease resistance, particularly to Septoria tritici, yellow rust and mildew. 

“Group 1 variety Gallant also had a good year. This is probably an example of how early-maturing varieties have performed better than later-maturing varieties this year.

“The high disease pressures in 2012 for rusts, Septoria tritici and fusarium head blight provided us with plenty of new information to shake up the disease resistance ratings,” he said.

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