Better harvest prospects but rain vital now

6 July 2001

Better harvest prospects but rain vital now

By Andrew Blake

INTENSE sunshine and remarkably disease-free crops following widespread mid-June downpours are lifting gloom about this years harvest. But showers forecast earlier this week were eagerly awaited in most areas.

Several specialists in the south of England say there is more variation between combinable crops this season than ever. Rainfall in the run-up to harvest is now critical.

In Scotland, where most spring barley went in well, albeit late, the message is so far so good.

After the dry May kept diseases low, not all areas received last months heavy rain, says Dick Neale of Cambs-based Hutchinsons. Most spring crops and winter sowings drilled in less than ideal conditions still need steady moisture to perform even reasonably well.

Dry weather

"The dry weather has really picked out fields with poor soil structure. Flying over the UK is not a pretty sight. Crops on damaged land look very lacklustre. Most spring barley is a disaster."

Dalgetys Mike Jeffes agrees. "Spring barley in the north and Scotland should be OK, but there are thousands of acres of crops just 6-9in high which will deliver only bags of screenings."

Winter barley, maturing earlier than wheat, is less at risk from any on-going drought, he says. "The real problem is there is a lot of surface rooting. Many crops on heavy land are just going to give up, even if it stays dry."

Wheat ear counts are generally less than optimum, he adds. But given good growing conditions the crop has tremendous ability to compensate. "A rise in thousand grain weight of only 5g on a 45g sample represents a yield increase of more than 10%."

ADASs David Parish says signs of drought-stress in winter wheat are already showing on light land and in second crops on heavy soils, even those receiving good June rain. "Flag leaves are curling and they are clearly suffering, especially where take-all and poor rooting are compounding things. It all depends on the moisture and sunshine from now."

Gappy crops add to yield pressure, says colleague John Garstang. "Many fields have big gaps, especially in oilseed rape, which could pull yield back from 3 to 2.5t/ha."

However, SCATS Rob Sanderson says the relative absence of disease bodes well for quality – a key need this year.

But growers should beware, cautions Mr Parish. "Most winter barley spraying is finished, but brown rust can be a problem in spring barley and all wheats, especially Riband, and is encouraged by dry weather. Aphids are also creeping up in plenty of crops, which are susceptible right up to the milky ripe stage. Dont shut the gate just yet."

In Scotland, where disease pressure is more normal, many ear sprays have yet to go on and should be well worthwhile, says Keith Dawson of CSC CropCare. &#42


&#8226 Better than earlier in season.

&#8226 Moisture sorely needed.

&#8226 Many "optimum" wheat canopies.

&#8226 Field gaps sapping output.

&#8226 Still scope for late inputs.

Harvest prospects

Viking Grain, recently linked to Selby-based Cropwise, says its 400 members from Oxon to Yorks expect wheat output to be at least 30% down on last year and barley output 29% less. "Repeated on a national basis that would mean a wheat crop of 12m tonnes," says chairman Mike Jackson.

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