NE yields good, but price is concern
High cereal yields and low
prices are the challenge
growers should expect this
year, says Andrew Fisher
LOW grain prices are causing headaches for north-east arable farmers but at least their grain stores should be full after harvest, says Harrogate-based independent crop consultant Andrew Fisher.
Dry spring weather forced the development of strong rooting systems which means that crop structure is good, says Mr Fisher. He forecasts that good wheat yields could reach 10t/ha (4t/acre) and 8.5t/ha (3.4t/acre) for barley; particularly on the better soils in the Vale of York.
But it could be mid-winter before prices improve. "Black Sea wheat prices at £50/t delivered have brought serious competition. In the short term, theres little farmers can do except to make sure that grain quality is good enough for export," says Mr Fisher.
"There has been much talk about China becoming a potential market for the UK barley crop because the Chinese are developing a taste for beer. But it is likely that China has already responded by increasing its own malting barley area."
At home, the damage caused to soil structures during the floods of autumn 2000 is still being felt around the region. "Farmers have done a lot to repair drains and many areas have been sub-soiled. But there is still some work to do and wholesale re-draining has not been an option because of lack of money. Some growers are still finding wet spots where drains burst in the floods," he says.
As this seasons crops approach harvest, his advice to the regions growers is to keep a balanced rotation. "I recommend sowing a high percentage of first wheats, followed by a second wheat for feed if the land is suitable. Winter barley is also a good prospect in this region, as there is good demand for straw."
Growers looking for break crops are finding that oilseed rape, peas and beans remain the best choice. "Most of the novel crops are still at the niche market stage," says Mr Fisher. "There are not enough end users to provide a safety net for farmers. So any change of policy could leave growers with no other outlet. Crops for pharmaceutical use are probably the best bet as there may be several different buyers to choose from."
Growing minority crops is usually the easy part; harvesting them and selling them present the greatest risks, he warns. "Hemp in particular can be difficult to harvest and even more awkward to bale. But motor manufacturers are looking to hemp as a soundproofing material because they are being encouraged to use recyclable materials. So potentially there is an expanding market."
Lupins are becoming more popular in the north east, mainly because they give a high protein animal feed which also provides an excellent break, says Mr Fisher. "Variety is all-important. Last year, several of my clients tried Borweta, but it quickly proved unsuitable for this region. It came out of the ground looking good but stopped growing when it reached 7-10cm (3-4in) tall. That made it difficult to harvest. But this seasons crops of Lucille look really good."