Mixed Harvest Recovers After Long Dry Summer

Tractor, trailer and combine harvester in a field
After a long, cold, wet winter suddenly turned into the joint hottest summer on record for the UK, Scottish farmers feared the worst for their 2018 harvest but NFUS are reporting better than expected crop yields but straw yields down year-on-year.

NFUS are reporting better than expected crop yields but straw yields down year-on-year.

A long, cold, wet winter suddenly turned into the joint hottest summer on record for the UK, and Scottish farmers feared the worst for their 2018 harvest.

Thankfully, many farmers in Scotland have been pleasantly surprised by their harvests this year, reporting better than expected yields considering the tumultuous weather they have suffered.

With farmers inputting across most of Scotland, many are currently trying to finish off harvest in between spells of rain. Across the board many have seen poorer average yields from winter and spring barley as well as for straw. Through NFU Scotland’s #NFUSHowDoYouPlan straw and feed campaign advice was issued earlier in the season to encourage more people to bale rather than chop their straw, with many seeming to follow this advice.

The picture for wheat has been mixed, with some reporting good quality, whilst others stating that it got hit hard at the start of the summer and never fully recovered.

Spirits do seem to be high amongst members who feel it could have been much worse considering the weather we have had.

NFU Scotland Combinable Crops Chairman Ian Sands, who farms in Perthshire, said

Going into the spring period with the bad weather that we had was a serious problem for many of our combinable crops members. Farmers had an uphill battle early in the year to get everything ready and planted for autumn harvest.

Following up this wet winter and spring with such an unseasonably hot and dry summer could have been disastrous for cereal farmers who require a healthy balance of warm and damp weather to produce the crops that we are renowned for.

Here in Perthshire, yields are nothing special but okay considering the conditions we have had to endure over the last few months. Straw yields have been pretty poor per acre but that is to be expected with the long, dry spell stopping growth.

An upside of the hot weather is that most grain will be at an acceptable moisture and less drying will be required.

Winter crops are getting sown into good quality seed beds and are well ahead of last year, when we struggled to clear fields of some crops and did not have the conditions to start sowing when we needed to.

In the North East, reports from local farmers suggest grain yields are mixed, with winter and spring barley back on last year for a number of farmers in the area. Some have experienced better yields on heavier ground, with sandy ground producing worse yields than last year. Oats have been a real positive for the area with excellent yields compared to previous years. Across the region straw looks to be back around three bales per acre.

Davie Winton, Haugh of Birse Farm, Aberdeenshire, North East Regional Chairman

Harvest on lighter sandy areas has been finished for a week or two with yields being light and straw scarce. On heavy land we are well on but still have some to do. Yields look better and there seems to be more straw.

Jack Stevenson, Brangan Farm, Banff, North East Combinable Crops Representative

Barley yield was exceptional this year at 3.5 to four tons per acre with plenty of straw similar to last year, a week earlier maybe.

Spring barley on the other hand was a lot poorer than last year, Concerto on average 2.4 tons per acre and Laureate better at 2.7 tons. Any fields with very light sandy land fared worse at two tons acre, our average last year was nearer 2.9 tons per acre so as you can see the dry weather this summer has hit us hard.

Straw on the whole back at least three round bales per acre but quality is excellent due to dry conditions at harvest, all the grain is passed for malting even though nitrogen levels are very varied from 1.4 to 1.75 with tons being short merchants are desperate for all grain.

Winter barley has been planted again in very dry conditions, so a little rain would help germination.

In the Lothians and Borders, yields have been varied but many are reporting being down on their yearly averages, however have been finished harvest ahead of previous years. Although more have baled rather than chopped their straw, most are reporting less straw per acre from last year.

Orkney farmers are reporting a reasonable yield for spring barley, which they were able to harvest in a stretch of good weather between the end of August and the beginning of September. Straw yields, like most of the country, are poor but that was to be expected. The wetter weather faced by Orkney from the beginning of September has meant slow progress for many.

Despite on below average yields of cereals and short straw in Argyll and the Islands, farmers are taking solace in the fact that the quality of everything harvested has been of an extremely high level. What has been a boost for those in the area is the surge in grass growth, producing an increase in silage during the end of the summer.

For Forth and Clyde area, yields have varied depending on the type of land but the weather breaking in August impacted on progress.

For those who haven’t yet done so, there is still time to submit your input to the Annual NFU Scotland Harvest Survey. Your harvest information helps produce a vital, independent estimate of crop production and increases accuracy of figures produced by the Scottish Government, Defra and the European Commission. You can respond directly, downloading the form on the NFUS website or using the online system at this link. The deadline for responses to be received is Monday 24 September.

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