Gales Hammer Harvest and Planting Progress

Latest storms accentuate North/South divide

The winds and rain that have battered parts of Scotland in recent days have compounded the huge difficulties many Scottish growers have encountered in securing the 2012 harvest.

In some parts of the country, yields and quality of crops have suffered under the wet summer and autumn and ground conditions mean that completing the harvest of cereals, lifting potatoes and vegetables and getting the 2013 crops planted is proving to be a real struggle.

In recent days, NFU Scotland’s Combinable Crops Committee chairman, Andrew Moir, has contacted fellow growers to assess the 2012 harvest and is encouraging Scotland’s arable farmers to complete the Union’s harvest survey.

After speaking to fellow farmers, Mr Moir said:
“It is clear that we have a genuine North/South split in fortunes. A line from Laurencekirk northwards appears to have the best quality and yields but in the South, very poor yields and quality seem to be the norm especially in spring barley.

“It would appear that after what was a high yielding year in 2011, this has been completely turned on its head in 2012, which makes this year’s harvest even more difficult for some to take.

“This has been a year of extremes which most people now want to forget and – when conditions allow - get on with finishing the harvest and hopefully getting some winter crops in the ground.  While those in the North with lighter land have had a better season, for some further south it has verged on a disaster and there are some whose harvest has barely begun.

“Feedback, particularly on spring barley, clearly shows that this harvest has thrown up serious questions about suitable and recommended varieties and how we assess them.    Most, if not all, new spring barley varieties have been prone to worrying levels of skinning.  We need to have a discussion with plant breeders as to whether the criteria being used to assess and develop new varieties is fit for purpose in changeable Scottish conditions. 

“Given the importance of malting barley to Scotland, we also need to engage with the distillers and maltsters on how the issue of skinned barley can be addressed from their side.  There is also a role for agronomists to look at trials on ways that growers can minimise skinning levels.  The problem of skinning is something I will look to pick up with the Combinable Crops committee when we next meet.”

Notes to Editors

North East: There has been average winter barley yields and poor quality.  As with most things this season, there have been reports of extremes at both end of scale. Oilseed rape (OSR) was awful, disease was rampant five weeks before desiccation would normally take place and yields were less than half normally expected, resulting in unfulfilled contracts. Spring barley yields in the area are poor at best with skinning an issue for our buyers. Wheat yields again are average at best but specific weights are okay, which bucks the trend this year.  Moisture at harvest was surprising with 18% about average compared with 22-24% in other years. With the weather here turning for the better a few days into September, this allowed a certain amount of catch up but OSR sowing was a long hard road with crops sown in less than ideal conditions and about three weeks difference in growth stages - some are just braided now! Some were unable to roll large areas of OSR resulting in problems with slugs and where rolled, capping has been an issue, with some in this area having to re-sow as result. I am not sure if all OSR sown will get through a hard winter. Winter barley has been sown into good seedbeds with winter wheat in similar condition after OSR.

Highland: Harvest in the Ross-shire, Sutherland and Inverness-shire areas is well through, with spring barley 85 to 90% cut and wheat perhaps 50% to 70% cut, but difficult to tell.  Most OSR will now have been sown for 2013 and some wheat has already gone in so operations are proceeding, probably as much because we have had no harvesting weather to speak of since last Saturday.  There is a lot of straw to bale although a lot more seems to have been chopped. Yields of spring barley have been good in some areas and average to below average in others.  We expect that production will be between 5% and 10% back on the average.  Wheat has been similar although there have been some very good yields and, so far, specific weights have been good.  The remaining wheat and barley is expected to be a bit weathered and perhaps with lower densities. Quality of spring barley is generally very good but there are issues with skinning in virtually all varieties except Optic. 

North East: There is a lot of spring barley still to cut in the more upland areas. I have heard anecdotally that spring barley quality is better than expected but yields down - though not as far down as expected in some cases. Crops have been slow to ripen even if sprayed with Roundup.  As of last Saturday, some people had not started yet!

East Lothian: Yields in all cereals are 25% to 30% back and with poor quality and low bushel weights, there are many growers on poorer ground only combining 1 tonne to 1.25 tonnes per acre. This will produce serious cash flow problems for growers with ever increasing fertiliser, fuel and chemical costs. Wheat is back to 3 tonnes and some growers as low as 2 tonnes per acre. The lack of sunshine has also affected potato and vegetable crops as well with poor yield and quality across the country, coupled with contract worries, growers have got plenty to think about.

Stirlingshire: The quality has been pretty good bar the barley, which had skinnings of between 10 and 20 % for Concerto.  The yields on wheat and spring barley have been average at best.

Renfrewshire: The harvest is only half finished with the barley straw breaking down and heads lying on the ground.    I haven’t had a dry 24 hours in the last two weeks so the harvest is getting near to disastrous proportions with some fields well nigh impossible to even get on to.   The combine is sinking so badly that some bits have to be abandoned. As a result of all this, the yields are dropping daily and the quality is deteriorating quickly. As far as winter sowing is concerned, I have had to forget it.

East Lothian: The harvest in East & Mid Lothian is far from complete, even the early coastal parts have fields of wheat yet to cut – green straw and a reluctance to ripen being the problems.  Spring oats have green straw and still have green leaves!  Glyphosate is slow to work but at least oats dry more quickly in damp mornings and most mornings are damp at this time of year.  Beans may ripen eventually but there are few beans on them anyway.  We have had some decent spells of weather.  In the second week of September, 10 days without any serious rain allowed ripe crops to get down to 17 or 18% moisture in some cases but we never saw the 13% some reported.  All in all, a disappointing harvest but not a disaster.  Most crops were standing so we have learned a bit since 1985.  Over all the crops, yields and quality have been very variable but on average probably 20-25% below the 5-year average, some much worse and some hardly affected at all.

Berwickshire: The harvest is almost done in Berwickshire now, a few fields of wheat and very poor beans still to cut. The harvest is being described as the worst in 30 years. The yields have been very poor, winter barley down by one to two tonnes per acre, spring barley down 1 to 1.5 tonnes per acre - spring oats seem to be the least affected, being a traditional Scottish crop it maybe more resilient to bad weather, and back maybe 0.5 tonnes per acre.  OSR seems to be back by up to 0.75 tonnes per acre and wheat back 1 tonne per acre. The bushel weights are very varied and screenings high to very high but the extra ordeal brought by the ground conditions has made it a very challenging harvest for most. The strain on man/woman and machine has been noticeable, talking to neighbours the mood is very downbeat and the feeling of just trying to sow and move on to another year is very noticeable.

Ayrshire: Disaster is the first word that comes to mind, depressing is the next. The amount of effort that goes into producing the crop and the weather changes everything. Two weeks prior to harvest most crops in this area looked great. Ground conditions were also good. Then we had 5 inches of rain in August followed by more rain in early September with a top up of 1.5 to 2 inches in 12 hours last Thursday. Now, ground conditions are poor, combines getting stuck all over the place, moisture content is between 20% to 25%.  Some farmers have decided to crimp their barley as it is over 25% in moisture. Heads are lying on the ground due to the crop being straw broken. I guess losses may be around 25%. We had 3 days of dry weather at the weekend and it was all hands on deck but outlook is gales and more rain. Virtually no winter crops are in apart from a couple of fields near the coast.

East Lothian: All crops cut so far are well back on expectation/ budgets. Winter barley averaged 5 tonnes per ha (usually 7tonnes), but did make malting quality but with higher than usual screenings and therefore deductions. Winter OSR was well back on average with yield at 2.5 tonnes per ha (last year’s average was 4.4 and 5 year average 3.7). Spring barley has performed reasonably well on the better, lighter land with our best field doing 7 tonnes per ha but the heavier land was a disaster at 4 tonnes per ha (5 year average is 6.6). Malting quality was achieved but samples were poor with screenings and skinned grains. Harvest is finished with wheat averaging 7.1 tonnes per ha (5 year average is 9.1). It was reasonably dry and quality not too bad and even made milling quality on 10 hectare. Wheat reports from this area vary from poor to awful with one farmer averaging 5 tonnes per ha. This is easily the worst harvest I have known for yields since leaving college in 1995. The only bright spots are favourable prices, reasonable harvesting weather and ground conditions drying up to allow for next years plantings. Also drying charges should not be too severe this year. There seems to be a lot of OSR planted in the area but it has struggled to be rolled so slugs are going to be a major issue as will weed control. We can only hope for favourable weather to allow the crop to grow away from problems. I have heard of very little winter cereal sowing so far and the clock is now ticking, especially for winter barley crops. Progress will be slow as today brought 70mph winds and 1.5 inches of rain have fallen in the last 24 hours.


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 102/12

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