Badger© FLPA/Andrew Mason/Rex/Shutterstock

Farmers Weekly looks back at the biggest stories to hit the headlines from July to September including bovine TB and the badger cull extension and mixed fortunes for harvest.

Bovine TB continued to take its toll on British farms in 2017, with increases in the number of herds affected in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Latest data also shows the total number of cattle slaughtered because of TB in England in the 12 months to September 2017 increased 6% to 31,572, partly as a result of better testing. But there was a slight drop in Wales – down 2% to 9,702.

See also: 7 fantastic harvest videos to celebrate harvest 2017

Much of the focus remained on badger culling in the hotspot area, as Defra continued with its policy of reducing the wildlife reservoir as part of its multipronged control strategy.

In September, it announced a significant increase in the level of culling, with 11 new areas added to the existing 10, where badgers could be shot until the end of November.

This included parts of Wiltshire and Cheshire for the first time – though Cheshire East Council banned culling on its holdings.

Overall, Defra set a target of 22,000-34,000 badgers to be shot during the autumn – a steep increase on the 14,800 which had been removed over the previous four years.

This reflected Defra’s conviction at the time that the policy is effective, despite the objections of badger protection groups, which labelled the extended cull as “shameful”.

As part of its TB policy, Defra relaunched its badger edge vaccination scheme, inviting wildlife groups to apply for 50% funding to carry out vaccination in the edge areas.

It also set up a new TB advisory service for farmers, offering guidance on biosecurity and risk-based trading.

Welsh TB crackdown

Badger culling was introduced in Wales for the first time, but only on about 60 farms with persistent TB problems. 

Badgers were trapped and tested before being killed.

The Welsh government has also introduced whole-herd tests at six-monthly intervals and more restrictive movement controls. Inconclusive reactors are also now routinely slaughtered in all breakdowns. And a compensation cap of £5,000 a cow has been introduced in Wales.

Culling is also now being considered in Northern Ireland, where 8% of herds are now infected with TB.

Wet weather dampens crop quality for many

Harvest 2017 was a season of increased yields but compromised quality for many after rain pushed back cutting dates.

Long spells of sunshine during early summer saw some of the earliest cutting dates on record, with a handful of growers getting into winter barley in late June.

Wet harvest

© Tim Scrivener

Oilseed rape yields also brought surprising cheer to early harvesters in early July.

Despite the prolonged dry spring, which dented the hopes of many growers, rapeseed immediately showed promise on all but the lightest land.

The crop proved to be the star performer of the year, with an average yield of 3.9t/ha, up 26% on 2016, bringing optimism to the sector after half a decade of annual declines in the planted area.

Good early wheat

However, this was just beginning to be one of the longest harvest seasons on record, with growers in Scotland and the South West still cutting crops late into September and beyond.

By the end of July, the first hints that harvest progress was to be less-than-serene had arrived, with winter wheat and spring barley rapidly coming ripe as rain clouds gathered overhead.

Continuing rain in August in some parts of the country initiated the large variation in quality that was to be the tale of the season.

Crop dryers were in full swing, with some wheat being cut at more than 20% moisture, in a bid to preserve milling premiums, with problems compounded by a large number of lodged crops.

By the end of August, prospects for premiums had slumped south of the M4, with growers in Wiltshire and Hampshire describing the remainder of the harvest a “salvage operation”.

This was despite wheat yields across the country coming in a healthy 7% above the five-year average at 8.5t/ha.

Spring barley

It was a similar story with spring barley, with malting and brewing premiums under threat for many growers, first from a late uptake of nitrogen after a dry spring, and then a late harvest.

But a large 754,000ha crop area saw the drinks industry manage to scoop up enough quality grain to meet demand.

A round-up of other news from July to September