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‘They are literally wilting in front of your eyes’ – Farmers race to harvest peas hit by heatwave

PUBLISHED: 06:06 13 August 2020 | UPDATED: 14:20 13 August 2020

Pea growers are working 24 hours a day to harvest a crop which has been wilting in heatwave conditions. Picture: Russell Corfield / Aylsham Growers

Pea growers are working 24 hours a day to harvest a crop which has been wilting in heatwave conditions. Picture: Russell Corfield / Aylsham Growers

Russell Corfield / Aylsham Growers

Farmers are working around the clock to harvest Norfolk pea crops which are wilting in the August heatwave – and it is expected to leave a shortage of as much as 30pc of the nation’s peas this year.

Pea growers are working 24 hours a day to harvest a crop which has been wilting in heatwave conditions. Picture: Russell Corfield / Aylsham GrowersPea growers are working 24 hours a day to harvest a crop which has been wilting in heatwave conditions. Picture: Russell Corfield / Aylsham Growers

The extreme heat is damaging some plants before all their pods are ready, while other crops planned for harvest later in the season are ripening earlier than expected.

All of which is proving a major logistical challenge for farmers including Russell Corfield, commercial director of Aylsham Growers, which grows 7,500 acres of vining peas.

The company is 10 weeks into its harvest and with about 1,000 acres to go it is working 24 hours a day in a “military operation” to direct its fleet of five huge harvesters – each worth £500,000 – to the right fields around the county to gather peas at the optimum moment.

“Crops at the moment are literally just wilting in front of your eyes,” he said. “We’re probably sacrificing some of the top pods because they are never going to fill because the vine is losing all the moisture. Wherever we can we are irrigating crops just to try and help push them through.

Russell Corfield, commercial director of Aylsham Growers. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYRussell Corfield, commercial director of Aylsham Growers. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“It is not great at the moment, and that’s the same up and down the country. We’ve all got the same issues, fields are turning yellow overnight.

“At the moment it is like a military operation. We are all running full-bore so that we don’t lose peas, because this year there is going to be a shortage, definitely, with the season we have had. I bet you that we will be 25-30pc short on peas this year across the UK.”

Mr Corfield said the extreme weather was evidence of the impact of a changing climate on food production.

“Every year is a challenge,” he said. “In the pea job you never get two seasons the same.

Pea growers are working 24 hours a day to harvest a crop which has been wilting in heatwave conditions. Picture: Russell Corfield / Aylsham GrowersPea growers are working 24 hours a day to harvest a crop which has been wilting in heatwave conditions. Picture: Russell Corfield / Aylsham Growers

“Last year was a phenomenal year for us, but this year the weather is really having a significant impact. All our back-end peas two weeks ago, even 10 days ago, looked absolutely first class. They had regular amounts of rain and there was heaps and heaps of potential there, but unfortunately this hot weather has come in and sapped the life out of the plants. Some of the younger peas at the top I fear are never going to finish.

“Not only that but the hot weather is starting to cause the peas to go pale, so if we are not careful and we cannot keep up with the crop we are going to start seeing some pale peas which are then going to get pinged out at the factory because they don’t want those pale peas in a pack.

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“Some of my back-end peas have come fit before some of my other material, so I’ve come forward to the back end of my programme to harvest peas and then gone back on myself – and in the 12 years I’ve done this job, I’ve never ever done that.

“It is a battle at the moment. We cannot afford to lose any pea fields this year – we’ve not bypassed any fields so far and I certainly don’t intend to do it now. But Mother Nature has a way of putting obstacles in your way.

Pea harvesters at work in a dry and dusty field. Picture: Russell Corfield, Aylsham GrowersPea harvesters at work in a dry and dusty field. Picture: Russell Corfield, Aylsham Growers

“I feel like I’m juggling lots of pea fields in the air trying to make the best decision on where to go.

“We’re moving about quite a lot at the moment and that is being made all the more difficult because we’re near the coast and lots of people are being attracted towards the coast in this weather so the traffic is a nightmare. I am trying to get people to understand what we are doing and the fact we have got five large harvesters that are coming up behind you.

“It is quite a challenge. Everything has got to be done like clockwork and we need to get loads to the factory by a certain time.”

Mr Corfield said he hopes to finish the pea harvest by the end of August, depending on the weather – with the significant forecast rainfall being another “big concern” as it won’t arrive in time to rescue crops, but it could hamper harvesting conditions in the fields.

Pea growers are working 24 hours a day to harvest a crop which has been wilting in heatwave conditions. Picture: Russell Corfield / Aylsham GrowersPea growers are working 24 hours a day to harvest a crop which has been wilting in heatwave conditions. Picture: Russell Corfield / Aylsham Growers


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