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‘Weather extremes are now the norm’ – farmer reflects on his worst wheat harvest

Norfolk farm contractor Kit Papworth described his 2020 harvest as without doubt the lowest yielding and shortest harvest I have been involved with. Picture: Chris Hill

Norfolk farm contractor Kit Papworth described his 2020 harvest as without doubt the lowest yielding and shortest harvest I have been involved with. Picture: Chris Hill

Chris Hill

After harvesting the worst wheat yield of his career, a Norfolk farmer said weather extremes have now become the “new normal” – so it is time to revise annual budgets with lower expectations for cereal crops.

Norfolk farm contractor Kit Papworth described his 2020 harvest as without doubt the lowest yielding and shortest harvest I have been involved with. Picture: Kit PapworthNorfolk farm contractor Kit Papworth described his 2020 harvest as without doubt the lowest yielding and shortest harvest I have been involved with. Picture: Kit Papworth

Kit Papworth, a director of farm contracting business LF Papworth, based at Felmingham near North Walsham, completed his 2020 harvest this week and described it as “without doubt the lowest yielding and shortest harvest I have been involved with”.

Wheat yields were down 15pc and winter barley and winter oilseed rape down 20pc on five-year averages, he said, following a challenging season which begin with ceaseless rain in autumn and winter meaning many crops struggled to establish roots, followed by a prolonged dry spell in spring – including East Anglia’s driest May on record – and a heatwave in the summer.

He said plants which he was able to irrigate during the dry spring yielded two tonnes per hectare better than those without water, and all his best crops were sown in September regardless of variety or soil type.

And this was the fourth year out of five that the company has not needed to use its grain dryer – another indication of how farm businesses needed to revise their expectations in a changing climate.

He said: “At what point does this become the new normal? Is 8t/ha (tonnes per hectare) and 13pc moisture the new budget for sandy loam in East Anglia? If so, contract farming budgets need to change.

“If you don’t start the dryer four years out of five you have got to accept that we are being affected by climate change more than we ever thought at this stage. Here in the East we are getting these extremes of temperature and rainfall and I do think we need to revise contract farming budgets downwards. I think the extremes are now the norm.

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

“It puts into perspective things like investing in reservoirs to store water, but we have got to accept that climate change means if you are going to be an arable farmer in the East you are going to have to accept wild variations from one year to the next. In some years you might get a nice surprise and get perfect conditions and good yields, but you have got to say that over a five-year cycle it is going to be down.”


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