Dry start to September hinders winter crop establishment

The first half of September has been the driest across the UK since 1960, according to the Met Office, which is proving a headache for growers who are trying to establish winter crops.

Data up to 15 September showed there has been 6.7mm of rain across the UK, which is just 7% of the September average of 96mm.

Mixed farmer James Read, based in Louth, Lincolnshire, said just 6mm of rain has fallen on the farm since the beginning of September.

He said the dry weather was hampering establishment of oilseed rape and wheat crops.

“We’re struggling, to be honest,” he said. “We have got some of the rape established, but the other half of it is really struggling.

“We have just started drilling wheat and some of it is going into dry seed-beds. It’s not ideal.”

AICC Yorkshire agronomist Julian Thirsk said growers had been losing moisture from seed-beds.

“We have had people who have ploughed over fields and it has baked like bricks,” said Mr Thirsk.

“There have been some cobbly seed-beds, which increases the slug risk.”

He recommended growers should “plough the ground, work it and drill fairly soon afterwards – then return to fields a day or so later to check cultivation”.

Read also: Warm weather fuels rapid increase in maize dry matter

Overall, it’s the driest start to September for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but not for England – 1997 and 2003 were drier.

Normally, forecasters would expect about half of the average monthly rainfall to have fallen by this point in the month.

The UK mean temperature for September so far has been 13.9C, which is 1.3C above the full-month average.

Sunshine has also been slightly above normal, with 70.8 hours for the UK – about 57% of the September average.

The Met Office said high pressure had dominated the UK in recent weeks and kept low pressure and more unsettled weather at bay.

But after a spell of sharp showers on Thursday and Friday (18-19 September) and more unsettled weather forecast for this week – with predictions of a “North West/South East split” – the Met Office said it was too early to say where the month would end up overall.

“A few days of wet weather could drastically alter the statistics, so we’ll have to wait for the full-month figures before making any judgements,” said the Met Office on its blog.

But Berwickshire grower and 2011 Farmers Weekly Arable Farmer of the Year Colin McGregor, who farms more than 3,000ha on the Scottish Borders, said the dry weather was not having a detrimental effect on his farming operation.

“September has been very dry. We have had 7-8mm of rainfall so far,” Mr McGregor told Farmers Weekly on Friday (19 September).

“We have not had the high temperatures like the South. But what has been unusual is the lack of wind.”

Like the rest of the country, harvest at Coldstream Mains, Coldstream, was earlier than usual this year.

“Of late, there has been some hardy, foggy days which is just delaying us combining the final 100 acres of spring beans,” he added.

Rainfall map

Map showing actual rainfall across the UK from 1-15 September. All parts of the UK have been drier than average. (Source: Met Office).

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