East Anglia is nearing the end of a frustrating, expensive and rain-affected harvest - leaving farmers seeking silver linings after a "year to forget".

Combine harvesters are finally starting to roll off the arable fields after a summer of stark contrasts to last year, when the dry heat sparked a rapid gathering of grains.

This year, rain delays have been a constant frustration, along with the extra cost of drying grain to keep it within moisture specifications, on top of high fertiliser and fuel prices.

Andrew Blenkiron is director of the Euston Estate near Thetford, which completed its cereals harvest on August 12.

Eastern Daily Press: Andrew Blenkiron, director of the Euston Estate near ThetfordAndrew Blenkiron, director of the Euston Estate near Thetford (Image: Newsquest)

Although cereal yields have only been around average, he said there have been some positives - as the wet summer has created perfect growing conditions for later-harvested sugar beet and maize, and reduced the need for costly irrigation of potatoes, carrots and onions.

"People are reporting pretty average yields, if not slightly better than average," he said.

"But with the cost of growing it, and the extra drying charges, it was an expensive crop to grow to get an average yield. 

"Having said that, anybody who has got spring-planted maize and sugar beet, they are looking tremendous, better than they have for the last four or five years.

"The rain has kept them growing so well. There will be some big sugar beet crops processed this year. 

"The other positive is, with the high electricity costs, we have not had to pump so much water around for our irrigated potatoes, carrots and onions. Our water use has been half of what it was last year."

Mr Blenkiron's top performing crops included winter barley, harvested in dry conditions before the rain, which yielded 10pc above average.

But the farm's milling wheat incurred some expensive drying charges after being harvested with a moisture level of 19-20pc.

Eastern Daily Press: North Norfolk farm contractor Kit PapworthNorth Norfolk farm contractor Kit Papworth (Image: Newsquest)

North Norfolk contractor Kit Papworth finished a "frustrating" harvest on Thursday, two weeks later than last year, and a week later than his average completion date.

"It has been a year to forget, and I am glad to have finished," he said.

"It has been a very average harvest. I think spring barley has probably been our best crop, but everything else has been OK, no records broken. 

"I guess part of the frustration is we had been getting used to those earlier harvests, but some years will be like this as the climate changes.

"I am not quite as optimistic about sugar beet. On the lighter land the beet is starting to flag in the heat of the day, and because of the wet spring it was planted a little later so some of its potential may be lost.

"But it is definitely still growing, and forage maize looks really well."

Eastern Daily Press: Aylsham-based grain trader Andrew Dewing of Dewing GrainAylsham-based grain trader Andrew Dewing of Dewing Grain (Image: Dewing Grain)

Aylsham-based grain trader Andrew Dewing agreed that the overall quality was no more than "OK" after a year which saw "six weeks of continuous, 24-hours-a-day drying" to keep up with deliveries of wet grain.

But he said East Anglia had produced better wheat and barley than many other areas, and had been able to harvest them earlier than some counties which still have crops in the ground, so it was "better to have a bird in the hand".

"I think 2023 will be remembered as a painful, annoying drag of a harvest, rather than a joyous 'let's have a picnic' harvest - but we should count our blessings instead of our curses," he said.

"The weather was clearly always going to have an impact, and the quality is adequate, not perfect.

"In a perfect world, some of this barley would not be accepted for malting, but the choice for the maltsters is they are going to have to change their spec a little bit to accommodate this barley.

"The winter barleys were better than the spring barleys, but in East Anglia the spring barleys were generally good compared to the rest of the country, and on the continent.

"So there is still a very good potential market for our malting barley."

Eastern Daily Press: A combine harvester working between the rain showers for Norfolk farm contractors LF PapworthA combine harvester working between the rain showers for Norfolk farm contractors LF Papworth (Image: Kit Papworth)