Wet weather – Growers struggling to lift and protect potatoes

The wettest June since 1914 across much the country has left many fields under water and growers struggling to protect and lift potatoes. Dull weather has wiped out prospects of an early combinable crops harvest.

With some notable exceptions, lodging is reportedly less of a problem than usual, possibly thanks to April’s dry spell, which shortened plants.

“I’ve never seen this farm so wet at any time of the year,” said Farmers Weekly Barometer Richard Solari, having recorded 256mm (10in) of rain in June against the average of only 58mm at Heath House Farm, Beckbury, in Shropshire.

“That was on top of 67mm in the second half of May. Our annual average is 620mm, so we’ve had over half that in six weeks.”

By Monday the sodden sandland meant blight spraying was on schedule on just 80% of the crop, and under half his planned area of Dundrod second earlies had been harvested. “We’ve only done 30 acres and made a hell of a mess.”

For former Barometer Catherine Thompson in Yorkshire the picture was even bleaker after the River Foulness flooded 60ha, including 22ha of cereals and maize.

Her main problem lay in 18ha of Hermes potatoes. “They need their next blight spray, but we physically can’t get on. And our oilseed rape is ready for desiccation, but we can’t get near it.”

But she was far from alone, she stressed, with many wheats in the area flattened. “Only the tramlines are standing on some of the silt land.”

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Plenty of fenland wheat between Peterborough and Wisbech was also flat, noted Hutchinsons’ Dick Neale. “I reckon 70-80% is down, mainly through root lodging.”

Despite earlier dry weather, crops on fertile soils were probably taller than expected after late growth regulators were missed or omitted, he said.

Elsewhere, on lighter land, many cereals were shorter and thinner than usual, said independent trials specialist Richard Fenwick.
“Considering the weather we’ve had they’ve stood pretty well.”

With desiccation and swathing only just starting, United Oilseeds’ Richard Elsdon was not unduly concerned for oilseed rape crops.

“My impression is that a lot are a fair bit shorter than last year through a combination of the dry April, delayed nitrogens and more growth regulator use.

“We’d need another 14 days of this [poor weather] before I get alarmed.”

But TAG’s David Robinson feared for crops on poorly drained land already at field capacity. Further rain that led to ponding could severely hamper grain fill, he believed. “The question is how long can the roots withstand anaerobic conditions?”

Even in Yorkshire, one of the wettest areas, most growers had managed to apply planned T3 wheat sprays before the weather broke, said the AICC’s Patrick Stephenson, who estimated overall lodging at no more than 15%. “But winter beans could be a disaster – we’ve had aggressive chocolate spot rip into them.”

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