Harvest yield and quality better than expected, report Norfolk farmers

A combine harvester in action close to the rural village of Halveragte.Picture: James Bass

A combine harvester in action close to the rural village of Halveragte.Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

Cereal growers across East Anglia have been reporting a better than expected harvest as the combines have made a good start.

Although some have yet to start in earnest as wheat and oilseed rape crops ripen and rain stopped combines working yesterday, many farmers have cut winter barley and been pleasantly surprised by quality and yield.

For the first time in years, farmers may face a triple challenge of having to deal with spring barley, oilseed rape and winter wheat – all ripening at about the same rate. However, farmers closer to the coast may have to be more patient as crops have been slower to mature.

Samples of early wheat have been a surprise with bushel weights of more than 80kg per hectolitre, said Aylsham-based grain merchant, Andrew Dewing. He had a sample of Grafton wheat grown at Ludham, which was about 81kg – almost off the scale.

Other earlier-drilled wheats have also produced bold samples and better yields although most crops were not yet fully mature.

North Norfolk specialist barley grower and Holkham estate tenant Teddy Maufe has cut the last fields of the malting variety, Maris Otter, which has seen some variability in nitrogens, ranging from 1.45pc to 1.6pc. 'The coast has had a very different climate and in late June and early July we had sea frets until lunchtime. It is why farmers even 15 miles inland will have cut their Otter,' said Mr Maufe, chairman of the Malting Barley Growers' Confederation.

Broadland farmer Richard Hirst, who is a former NFU county chairman, had finished his winter barley at Ormesby, near Yarmouth. 'That's done well where it needs to be in terms of yields,' he added. Although it had not been over a weighbridge, it had yielded slightly more than three tonnes an acre.

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'The wheats are coming on. We thought it would be a late start to the cereal harvest but we'll probably start when we finish peas, which is what normally happens anyway,' he added.

Trevor Gates, regional manager of merchants Gleadell and based at Swaffham, was quietly confident about harvest. 'So far the oilseed rape has been a lot better than expected. Barleys have done well, even the early springs are looking reasonably good. The odd wheats have been marvellous compared to last year with bushel weights from 78 to 80kg and good proteins. After such an awful autumn, it is a pleasant surprise,' he said.

As reported in yesterday's EDP, the first 500 tonnes of a 4,400-tonne export shipment of feed barley at Great Yarmouth had a bushel weight of 69.5kg – higher than many of last year's wheats, said Mr Gates.

Farmer and contractor Robin Baines, of Hoveton, who has almost combined his winter barley, said that it had been good quality with predominantly good yields. 'We've got rape, spring barley and wheats – all going to come at the same time. We won't know which way to turn next week. We've got spring barley we could cut, we've got wheat which is ready to cut,' he added.

The region had been extremely fortunate and parts of Broadland had received a good inch of rain last week. 'I've always said how much better this part of East Anglia looked,' said Mr Baines, who saw sparse crops on the A14 and M6 on a recent visit to Worcestershire.

Breckland farmer Francis Ulrych, who is a former NFU chairman, had to delay his winter barley until mid-week having received more than two inches of rain in the previous eight days – jolly good for the sugar beet. He logged 27mm on Friday last week after 19mm in a mid-week storm and 10mm this Monday. 'Overall we've had 50mm in the past last week. It has really perked things up,' said Mr Ulrych, of Park Farm, Griston.

In the Waveney Valley, Julian Taylor was waiting to start combining 80 acres of oats for Jordan's breakfast cereals at Home Farm, Starston, near Harleston, 'I'm not growing winter barley this year. But that's the way it goes,' he added.

South Norfolk farmer Duncan West, of Pulham Market, had been pleasantly surprised with his winter barley and now expected to be combining spring barley. 'It is good quality at a specific weight of about 71 or 72kg, normally it would be 63kg or 64kg. It was one of the better yields that we've had and better than anticipated.

'It has done just over 10t per ha and has already gone on a boat as they've been shipping out of Ipswich and Lowestoft at quite a rate,' he added. Merchants Nidera despatched about 4,000 tonnes from Ipswich.

Stephen Howlett, of farmer-owned merchants, Openfield at Bressingham, Diss, said: 'Winter barley has done much better than expected. We've seen some oilseed rape and it is looking very variable.

'We've heard of 25cwt an acre yields of oilseed rape and also the odd two tonnes. It will be an average year but that's encouraging given how they looked six months ago when they looked horrendous.'

He had seen some wheats from Essex, which have been at 80kg. 'We've been blessed in this area, we've been much luckier than many of these further west and some in the Midlands might not have too much of a harvest at all,' he added.

On Halvergate, Ed Wharton, of Winsford Hall, was 'reasonably pleased' by his first wheat, Grafton. 'It was down to 17pc moisture, so we thought we'd cut. Better to cut at 17pc in August than 22pc in October.' He had combined winter barley every day last week because they had no rain.

Lewis Baugh, of Neatishead, had cut some Grafton winter wheat at the start of the week at Ludham, which probably yielded about 10t ha, on the combine meter.

'It was pleasantly surprising. We had it tested and compared to last year season's specific weights which struggled, it looks good quality at 80kg,' he added.

'I think we will have a good average on the winter barleys. The wheats might get us out of jail but I'm a bit nervous about wheat drilled late after potatoes, which were not established in the best of conditions,' he added.