Changeable weather frustrates early harvest progress for East Anglia’s farmers

Harvesting of winter barley at a farm near Elmswell. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Harvesting of winter barley at a farm near Elmswell. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Changeable weather has meant a stop-start beginning to East Anglia's cereals harvest, which has so far brought reports of above-average yields but variable grain quality.

Combine harvesters started rolling into the region's fields a fortnight early at the start of the month, after the June heatwave helped speed up the growth of winter barley and wheat.

While the hot temperatures have continued, this week's thunderstorms brought the early harvest to a temporary halt, but provided a welcome boost to those growing crops such as sugar beet and potatoes.

Tom Dye, managing director of Albanwise Farming, based at Saxlingham near Holt, and also a member of the National Farmers' Union's (NFU's) regional crops board, said the firm is about 5pc through its harvest, with winter barley almost complete.

He said the early start was positive, but the variable weather over the past few days has been frustrating, with crops ready for harvest that they have not been able to combine as yet.

'We really need a stable spell of weather now so we can get on with the harvest,' he said.

The Yaregrain storage and processing facility at Cantley has begun receiving its first harvest deliveries of winter barley from its 63 farmer members.

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Chairman Nick Hood, who farms at Woodbastwick and is halfway through his 260 acres of winter barley, said: 'It has been a frustrating couple of weeks.

'Yields have been OK, average or better, but the quality has been variable. There have been some thinner samples which have been out of spec which we are segregating, and using the processing unit to dress up the grain to get them up to standard, so our growers can maintain the premium for malting barley. 'We have got growers who have got oilseed rape in their mix and they want to cut the barley now because the longer the they leave the rape the more vulnerable it becomes to the weather. The barley is a bit of a mixed bag, but the oilseed rape in this part of the world looks good.

'If we get a good spell of weather then we will be getting into the wheat at the middle-end of next week. At this point, we're still 10 days ahead.'

Andy Austin, farm business manager at grain-marketing co-operative Openfield, based at Bressingham, near Diss, said: 'Despite the inclement weather most of the winter barley is now wrapped up in the Eastern region. Yields of winter barleys are about 5-10pc higher than last season in this region with better quality grains also.

'The feed varieties have produced heavier specific weights, averages so far indicate 66kg/hl, up from last season's average of 60kg/hl. Of the malting quality barley the older varieties have shone through this season with Flagon, Carat and Cassata all producing better quality than last season exhibiting lower nitrogen and lower screening losses than the 2016 harvest.

'Well over 50pc of the oilseed rape has also been harvested locally, with some above average yields and we have also seen some early wheats combined too. Early wheats on good land are encouraging and the early quality we are seeing are producing 78 – 80kg/hl samples with excellent hagbergs and proteins well over 12.5pc.'