Good Spring for Scottish Crops but Autumn Uncertainty Over Markets

Combinable Crops Chair holds teleconference with Cabinet Secretary to discuss

Scotland’s arable sector has enjoyed exceptional planting conditions this spring with a few showers of rain now needed to kick start growth.

Reports from around the country suggest those crops sown in a wet autumn in 2019 have also come through a very wet February and are now starting to grow away.

With almost all of Scotland’s crops in the ground, there is considerable uncertainty over 2020 harvest prospects this autumn driven by the impact of Covid-19.

NFU Scotland’s Combinable Crops Chairman Willie Thomson, who farms at Wheatrig near Haddington was due to host Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism Fergus Ewing on farm this week but a positive teleconference took place (Thursday 23 April) with a commitment from the Cabinet Secretary to keep the dialogue going and to visit the farm in person when appropriate to do so.

In discussions with the Cabinet Secretary, Mr Thomson mapped out the many impacts and foreseen consequences that Covid-19 was having on the sector.

Commenting after the meeting, Mr Thomson said: “Scottish arable farmers are committed to play their part in keeping the nation fed and watered throughout this crisis.

“We have always shown great willingness to adapt and invest in our businesses to ensure we supply the market with what it wants and we cannot allow the uncertainty and any market disruption generated by Covid-19 to undo all that good work.

“With a significant proportion of our barley and wheat destined for premium markets of distilling and brewing, reduced capacity and closures in breweries and distilleries at this time will have longer-term impacts on markets and planting decisions.

“When you pair that with uncertainty over export markets then it amounts to potentially severe financial challenges for the sector.

“Every part of Scottish farming and the food and drinks industry is interlinked, and any disruption has implications elsewhere. Grain that was expected to have been used in the drinks industry or as animal feed by now is building up in commercial stores, but those will need to be cleared and ready to accept grain from the 2020 harvest by late summer and autumn. If not, then the traditional harvest bottleneck of spring barley and wheat will build and farm stores will quickly fill.  Many of those farm stores are also needed for cattle housing for the winter.

“Keeping those supply chains running all requires haulage and we need ample time to plan ahead for any changes to lockdown so that we can get the chain restarted and grain moving again with minimal disruption.

“We welcomed the opportunity to discuss these issues with the Cabinet Secretary and we will keep him, and his officials briefed on these matters.”   

Crop updates from around Scotland

(A photograph nitrogen being applied to Orwell winter barley at Brangan in Banff and a photograph of spring barley being direct drilled at Mains of Kinnettles near Forfar are above.  Other photographs of arable work around the country are available on request from )

Willie Thomson, Wheatrig, Haddington, East Lothian.
Winter crops are looking mixed. Those that were planted down earlier have good potential, but ones sown after the rain started in the autumn all have bare patches in them. Winter oilseed rape (WOSR) is coming into full flower just now but crops are not looking complete from wall to wall. Spring crops sown into moisture are motoring but those sown on heavier ground and tougher seedbeds are in increasingly desperate need of some rain. All crops could now do with refreshing from a decent day or two of rain.

Neil White, Greenknowe, Duns, Berwickshire
At home, my spring sowing is over with spring beans, barley and oats all in the ground. They went in well, but all crops are in desperate need of rain now, the shallow rooted winter crops and newly sown spring ones especially.  

Some spring crops on heavier soils do not have enough moisture to germinate and will not move until we have had rain.

The excellent weather has turned slumped wet soils into baked dry dust in places, but it was required to dry the ground enough to allow sowing to take place. The weather that follows can make a big difference. If we get rain now then the whole region will green up very quickly.

Potatoes are still being planted but most are well through and they look to have gone in well. I think the area of potatoes planted maybe down as some contracts have been reduced.

Andrew Glover, Hall Of Barnweill, Craigie, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire
Sowing has been the easiest ever, good dry weather with no breaks. Ground conditions are perfect and all sowing complete.
Autumn crops are looking good, although we are now looking for rain (which I hate to say in the west coast of Scotland). This is the driest April on record as we have only had 9.1mm of rain. There is no rain forecast for the next 8 days which takes up into May.

Coronavirus has not affected us too much on the arable side as most of last year’s crop is sold and away and all work complete. The work continues and other parts of the farming have been more affected. If no rain soon, grass could be in short supply for cattle grazing etc. Spring crops could also be affected with crops germinating at different times and this will reduce yields.

Timothy Hamilton, Killumpha, Port Logan, Stranraer
Things have gone from really wet to dry in five weeks! Winter crops that got established in the autumn are now motoring along and the growth stage is about 10 days behind where we were this time last spring

Spring crops are all now emerged, but a nice shower of rain would help them along. The good spell of weather has seen spring field work done in a short time. Thankfully, supplies of fuel and spares have all turned up so we not been affected by the lockdown so far.

Fraser Shaw, Dryfeholm, Lockerbie
It is not often we get to report dry weather in this area, but we have had 4.5mm of rain in over a month. Crops could do with rain to wash in fertiliser applications if nothing else. Wheat has fared not too badly so far, but the barley is suffering from a lack of rain. Oilseed rape is now in flower and needs a drink.

Most of the grain in this area is spring barley and it has all now been drilled and has emerged nicely.

Jack Stevenson, Brangan, Banff
All crops are desperately in need of rain. Spring barley is emerging well on early ploughed land but on heavy spring ploughed ground where the seedbed was too dry, crops are struggling to get sufficient moisture to germinate.

Winter barley is looking well but areas of late, wet-sown wheat are really struggling to tiller and show much signs of fresh growth.
I have had no problems with being in lockdown. Supplies of feed and spare parts are still getting delivered. Crops and livestock still need to be planted and fed!

Lorna Paterson, Regional Manager NFU Scotland North East
Any early drilled winter crops are looking well, but later established fields have suffered due to the wet soils. Generally, crops are looking well, although there are poor patches in at least one field on most folk’s farms. Rape is hardly started flowering properly yet and is possibly a wee bit later than usual. We have had great sowing weather up here for spring crops, and much of the North East is finished and briared up now. Some cold winds and night frosts presently, although sun is shining all day on most days, so no complaints. Our soils will need water soon, especially as the mild Winter meant we had little snow to help create some decent volume of moisture in the water table. We may suffer badly up here if this proves to be a long, hot, dry Summer.

Jamie Wyllie, Ruchlaw Produce, Dunbar
Planting has gone well, and we have got all spring crops in. We had to switch from spring wheat to spring barley due to seed availability and price.

Our autumn crops are very mixed. Oilseed rape is not too great, and some winter wheats are looking well. However, some winter wheats also had to be ripped out and reseeded with spring crops as they drowned in the wet autumn.

The uncertainty of end market for cereals has less of an effect on us as we consume all that we grow as animal feed.

Euan Walker Munro, Mains of Kinnettles, Forfar
Spring crops have had a great start going into the ground in ideal conditions.  Some rain would be welcome over the next couple of weeks to boost the next growth stages.

Winter crops now motoring but from a poorer start point than this time last year.  


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Author: Bob Carruth

Date Published:

News Article No.: 54/20

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