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Heatwave harvest creates opportunities for East Anglia’s arable farmers

Norfolk harvest 2018. A field of wheat being harvested with a 750TT combine. Picture: Kit Papworth

Norfolk harvest 2018. A field of wheat being harvested with a 750TT combine. Picture: Kit Papworth

Kit Papworth

While most of East Anglia’s harvest has been a long way short of world-beating this year, there have been some records broken in the hot, dry summer.

The prolonged heatwave and lack of rainfall have damaged yields, but farmers have been able to take advantage of the dry conditions to make record completions of their combinable crops of wheat, barley and oilseed rape – before rain arrived towards the end of the week.

Kit Papworth, a director of the LF Papworth contracting business based at Felmingham, near North Walsham, said his 19-day combinable crops harvest, which was completed nine days earlier than his previous record last year, was “the fastest, cheapest, earliest, lowest-yielding and highest value per tonne I have ever experienced.”

As well as bringing opportunities to get onto the land early to prepare for the next crop, he said the higher prices being offered now for forward-sold 2019 crops had created a rare opportunity for growers to guarantee a profit for next season’s wheat, before it is even sown.

“We are just under 12pc down on our five-year average for wheat yield,” he said. “Within that 12pc we have got some crops that have done extremely well on the better land, with better organic matter and irrigation.

“But some landowners will be disappointed on the lighter land where they had no rain for 50 or 60 days. Those guys will have a disappointing yield and the prices won’t make up for it. For the worst yields it would need to be £230 per tonne to provide parity on last year’s return.

“The point here is that the opportunity is for the 2019 harvest. We are about to drill that crop, but we can already sell it for £175 per tonne, and we already know most of the costs, so before you even put that crop in the ground you can sell it and guarantee a margin.

“That is the opportunity. It is that ‘one in five’ year to see a profit in your rotation. It is a bold call and I think less than 10pc will be sold forward.

“Farmers’ natural reaction will be to look at the market and see what happens but, if it is wrong, £175 per tonne is a really good price to be wrong at.”

Meanwhile, despite the setbacks of the season, a farmer in the Lincolnshire Wolds has netted a huge 15.38t/ha wheat yield this summer.

Tim Lamyman credited this performance to choosing the high-yielding LG Skyscraper variety and using a good foliar feed programme, which he said helped to encourage deeper rooting in the winter, relieving heat stress in the summer.

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