Week of sun saves harvest

They say a week is a long time in politics, but in a farming season first ravaged by drought and then by flood, the same adage can certainly be applied to agriculture.

They say a week is a long time in politics, but in a farming season first ravaged by drought and then by flood, the same adage can certainly be applied to agriculture.

A clear week of fine, warm weather has meant the harvest has finally got under way in earnest, without bowing to the difficulties of a stop-start operation.

In recent days the combines have begun rolling wholeheartedly, the crop is coming in and a potential farming disaster, at least in some sectors, appears to have been avoided.

While potato and pea growers have had a season to forget, other key arable crops have fared better, experts said last night - although there is still some way to go before the harvest is complete.

Figures around the region vary, but it is thought around 85pc-90pc of winter barley is in, with all but a tiny amount of oil-seed rape safely taken.

First samples of spring barley and the beginnings of the wheat harvest have started to drift in, with another three to four weeks of good weather needed to finish these sectors.

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Some yields look set to be slightly depressed, although quality in the crops assessed so far is relatively encouraging.

“The last few days of good weather have been a real boon,” said Bob King, commercial director of the Crisp Malting Group at Great Ryburgh, which produces 115,000 tonnes of finished malt every year.

“For a lot of growers it has been a near disaster, but the dramatic improvement we have seen in the weather has made a huge difference.

“Another week of rain would have seriously altered the prospects of producing a usable crop.”

Quality of winter malting barley was better than anticipated in the light of the seven-week dry spell in the spring and the torrential downpours of recent weeks, said Mr King. “Yields however are depressed, by around 10 to 15pc.”

Stephen Howlett, general manager for Grainfarmers based at Bressingham near Diss, said: “It is amazing how quickly the machines can gobble up the crop once they have a clear run at it. I don't think the yields will be bumper, they will be somewhere in the region of average. But all in all, the last week or so has been very important to the industry.”