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Harvest 2018: Norfolk farmers report falling yields – but better than expected after summer drought

PUBLISHED: 14:58 20 July 2018 | UPDATED: 14:58 20 July 2018

A combine harvester at work at Thrigby. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A combine harvester at work at Thrigby. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

As East Anglia’s harvest gets into full swing, farmers are reporting below-average yields for barley and oilseed rape – but not as bad as first feared after the summer drought.

A combine harvester at work at Thrigby. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYA combine harvester at work at Thrigby. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

John Collen is an East Anglian representative on the National Farmers’ Union’s regional crops board, who is based at Rushmere near Lowestoft and farms about 2,500 acres.

He said although this year’s oilseed rape was down from 2t/acre to 1.5t/acre, and winter barley yields fell from an average of 4t/acre last year to 3.3t/acre this year, he was pleased with the 2018 harvest so far – but the real test will be the wheat crop, due to be combined at the end of next week.

“Considering the year we’ve had we feel elated, because we thought it was going to be far worse,” he said.

“We are certainly more positive than we thought we were going to be. But we believe the wheat is going to be the real disappointment. It is a later maturing crop, and the crucial time for grain fill was at the end of May and into June when we were going into drought.”

Oilseed rape being harvested at Uphouse Farm in South Raynham. Picture: Patrick JoiceOilseed rape being harvested at Uphouse Farm in South Raynham. Picture: Patrick Joice

Andrew Dewing, chief executive of Aylsham-based grain merchant Dewing Grain, said the winter barley delivered so far had been a “pleasant surprise”.

“It is a good quality crop,” he said. “Everyone is reasonably happy because they were expecting the worst.

“It is the worst drought in most working people’s memories, and you cannot have that level of drought without affecting the yield of a growing plant. So they are not going to be bumper yield, but the winter barley has been a pleasant surprise.

“Yield is average, or slightly below, the quality is good, the prices are firm and the conditions for harvest are good as there is no compaction issues on the ground. Things like that do help make it easier, but on the whole prices are compensating for the lower yields. It is a moving market, but the ex-farm price for perfect winter barley is about £175/tonne.”

Oilseed rape being harvested at Uphouse Farm in South Raynham. Picture: Patrick JoiceOilseed rape being harvested at Uphouse Farm in South Raynham. Picture: Patrick Joice

Mr Dewing said Norfolk’s oilseed rape yield would be below average, with farmers working hard to get the right moisture content in the grain.

“The plants are so baked and brittle, so people are having trouble getting the bonus for moisture levels of between 6-9pc. If it goes below 6pc you cannot extract the oil and you lose the bonus. People are combining at ungodly hours of the morning to get the moisture levels right,” he said.

Patrick Joice at Uphouse Farm in South Raynham, near Fakenham, is another grower with mixed feelings about his oilseed rape crop.

He said: “As a farm average, over 108 hectares of oilseed rape, we achieved 3.67 tonnes per hectare (about 1.5t/acre) which is disappointing considering how well the crops looked earlier in the season, but it appears to be at the higher end for yield this year – grain fill certainly suffered in the dry weather.”


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