Drought-hit East Anglian farmers concerned for their crops as harvest approaches
Concerns are growing for East Anglian crop yields from farms hit by a lack of rainfall as harvest time approaches.
Harvest is set to begin over the next few weeks across Norfolk and Suffolk, and combines are reported to be already out in some parts of Suffolk.
But the signs are not good, and farmers fear yields for some crops will be down from last year. In patches, they are being “burnt off”, rather than ripening naturally, due to the dry weather and heat.
Hunstanton-based agricultural consultant Robin Limb warned it was not only cereal crops that are being affected by the prolonged period without rain, as crops such as sugar beet were also feeling the effects.
“The protracted cold and wet spring delayed sugar beet drilling, such that the average drilling date will have been in mid-April, roughly a month later than normal,” he said. “Following last year’s record crop, this year is looking anything but exceptional. I have heard reports of sugar beet already wilting on lighter, sandier soils, despite the very wet weather only a couple of months ago.”
Emergence had been poor in many cases, and many crops didn’t meet the traditional benchmark of meeting over the rows by the time the Royal Norfolk Show got under way on June 27, he said.
“June rainfall receipts, so far, are about 10pc of normal, and the prospect for much-needed rainfall looks remote, with the next week forecast to be hot and sunny,” he said.
“Lost sunlight interception by the sugar beet leaf canopy can never be re-captured. The best we can hope for is that the growing conditions from now on are favourable to be able to approach anything like an average yield in 2018.
“Cereal crops are also suffering, especially on lighter soils. Barley crops are ripening early due more to ‘burning off’ than natural senescence.”
At the Stratton Streles Estates, based at Colby Hall Farm near Aylsham, the lack of rainfall has taken its toll on 165ha of potato crops grown for packing and processing customers including McCain and Bird’s Eye.
Managing director Jeff van Poortvliet said: “We had 18.5mm in May and 16mm in June – and that all came in one day. It is probably half of what we were expecting.
“We are now flat out irrigating the potatoes. We would normally want full canopy by the longest day on June 21. But we had 20-30pc of the crop that was not at full canopy, so there is potentially yield loss there straight away. It is a worry, but hopefully the price will make up for it.”