Wheat quality begins to deteriorate as rain continues to frustrate

Good harvest progress has been made over the past week, despite the weekend’s thundery showers, but quality is starting to deteriorate.

Nationally, the wheat harvest was about 60% complete, said Simon Christensen, head of wheat trading at Frontier. “Quality is deteriorating, but predominantly in the Group 3 and feed varieties. The milling wheat Hagbergs have held up extremely well.”

On Tuesday, the latest samples through the laboratory were testing at below 200 Hagberg, he said. And with unsettled weather set to continue this week, quality would continue to decline. “It’s hard to see that anything left in the field will be of much use in terms of Hagberg,” he added. Mycotoxin levels were also increasing, but were not above those seen last year.

With so many crops having to be dried, supplies of wheat to the market were slow, said Mr Christensen. But large yields, both in the UK and globally, were continuing to weigh on prices, which had weakened further this week to attract export demand for feed-grade wheat. “Milling wheat exports remain a possibility at the moment, but finding feed wheat buyers is much harder.”

Further north, in Scotland and the Borders, wheat harvest was only just under way, said Trevor Harriman of Scotgrain. “There are pockets of wheat that have been done – people are harvesting as and when they can – but there’s a lot still to do.”

combining combine wheat

Better weather in the east let many growers make good progress with harvest over the past weekend, but rain returned soon after

Farmers were only 10-40% through their spring barley, depending on location, but quality was still holding up well, said Mr Harriman. “In some areas, where barley has been ready for a while, there are some issues around pre-germination. But it’s a small proportion of the crop.” Temperatures had fallen dramatically, which would help protect against further sprouting problems, he added.

Many growers had finished their wheat in the east of England and were concentrating on drilling oilseed rape. But it was a different story in the south-west, where farmers were still struggling to combine wet crops on sodden ground.

With 16in of rain over the past two months, grain had started to sprout as early as 4 August at WH Bond & Sons’ Trerule Farm, Saltash, Cornwall. Although yields had been excellent, John Bond was worried that the remaining half of his wheat might have to be scrapped. “It’s been a disaster,” he said. “The crops had come through well and it’s really depressing to see them lying in the fields.”

The Met Office forecast more unsettled weather over the weekend, with a few dry days early next week, followed by more thundery rain. It would then improve, although stormy showers were possible in mid-September, said spokesman John Hammond. “The trend for the autumn as a whole is for temperatures to be near or above average, with below-average amounts of rain.”

Oilseed rape

Many farmers were struggling to drill their oilseed rape after the late wheat harvest, and the sowing window was rapidly closing, said Nick Brown, agronomist with ProCam. Conventional varieties should be drilled by 10 September, with hybrids able to go in until 20 September. “It is causing headaches and I think the rape area will inevitably be down,” he said.

Many farmers still had wheat to combine on land destined for oilseed rape, said Countrywide Farmers’ Neil Donkin. “There’s very little drilled yet,” he reported. Some were opting for minimal cultivation or direct drilling, although compacted ground would have to be ploughed.

Growers should be careful when choosing their cultivation and drilling method, because rape needed a decent seed-bed to establish properly, warned independent agronomist Ruth East. “But it is, at least, chitting very quickly because there is plenty of moisture there.”

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