Mixed Bag for Scottish Farmers this Harvest Despite Earlier than Normal Start

Grain quality good but yields mixed and straw short

Mid-season harvest reports from around Scotland suggest a mixed bag for Scotland’s cereal growers.

The hot, dry weather during June and July saw the start of harvest for winter barley advance by almost a fortnight with yields and quality average or above and drying costs minimal.  A similar story is emerging on winter oilseed rape.  Wheat and spring barley harvests are now getting started although showery weather across the country is slowing progress.

As predicted, the severe shortage of rain during the summer has had a significant impact on straw.  With straw likely to be in short supply, the Union has welcomed reports of choppers being turned off and significant volumes on winter barley and rape straw being baled.  However, early reports on spring barley harvested to date confirm that both volumes of straw and straw length are short.

As part of the #NFUSHowDoYouPlan 12-week campaign on feed and fodder, those needing straw this winter are being urged to plan ahead, collaborate with neighbours and suppliers on straw and feed supplies and, if necessary, look at alternatives.

The mid-season harvest update coincides with the launch of NFU Scotland’s long-running annual Arable Crops Survey.   Member information helps produce an independent estimate of crop production and increase accuracy of figures produced by the Scottish Government, Defra and the European Commission.

Growers who responded in recent years will receive a survey form and the Union’s local Group Secretaries will be looking for volunteers to complete the 2018 survey ahead of the 24 September deadline.  

NFU Scotland’s Combinable Crops Committee Chairman Ian Sands, who farms at Balbeggie in Perthshire said: “Although rain has stopped play for the next couple of days, it is great to see harvest progressing around the country.  

“In my area, winter barley and most oilseed rape is all cut with average yields matching what I was expecting. We cut some spring barley last week which was better than expected, the quality was good, nitrogen levels high and yields of straw poor. A lot of spring barley in these parts is not ready to be cut yet. We also cut wheat last week.  On light land, yields were disappointing but in heavy land, yields were quite good.  However, straw yields were well below the norm.

 “This year, more than most, accurate figures on Scotland’s harvest will be vital as growers and their customers try to match supply with likely demand.  I urge all with crops to take the time to complete the NFUS arable survey so that a full picture of the 2018 harvest can be determined.”


Lorna Paterson, NFU Scotland Regional Manager, North East
Aberdeenshire is slightly ahead of last year in terms of winter barleys. Yields are very varied across the region – between 1.2 tonnes per acre to 3.7 tonnes per acre. Crops have not needed much drying either, so this is a plus. Straw yields, in the main, have been pretty good. Oilseed rape is now swathed generally, but only one harvested so far with yields not great at under one tonne per acre.

Spring barley and winter wheats are ripening well. No data from harvested crops yet as spring barley is just being burnt off at present. There have been concerns about few tillers with less plants from each seed, so potential for less of a yield when combined, but hopefully good bold grains. There are also concerns about secondary growth, but time will tell how this has gone. The crops from wheat and spring barley are certainly shorter so it is predicted that there will be less straw for many from both.

Tatties are growing remarkably well in the region and have suffered less disease than normal years. Rain has arrived here now (Monday 13 August), so this could save the tubers and allow for a stronger yield and bigger tubers.

Iain Wilson, Tullich Farms, Howe O' the Mearns, near Laurencekirk
To date we have finished cutting 150 acres of winter barley and 160 acres of winter oats.  Winter barley yielded slightly above average, while oats were a tremendous yield.  Both were at very low moisture so a very positive start to harvest.

We have probably sold more of the straw off both winter barley and winter oats than we normally would.  However, I would say this is more down to the fact harvest is early which has meant a decent gap between cutting and then needing in with the plough for sowing oilseed rape, rather than the straw shortage.

Our thoughts on baling or chopping straw will be the same this year as any other. If the weather is good and we see a chance for neighbours to bale good, dry straw quickly then they will be given the chance. If it’s showery and wet, we will chop as our number one priority is to have fields cleared in time to plough and sow next year’s crops. We can’t risk this being held up by straw lying, no matter what its value may be. We do have existing arrangements with neighbours who get all the straw from land destined for spring cropping in a straw-for-muck deal, so they will get the same acres of straw as usual on the same deal as previous years.

We are currently around a week ahead of schedule, however rain in recent days looks to have stopped things for a few days. With a showery week forecast, I suspect if we get going again next week then we will be about the same stage as normal starting into oilseed rape harvest.

Sandy Henderson, Little Ythsie, Tarves, Ellon

We started winter barley on 23 July which is earlier than normal.  The crop has been reasonably good.  Straw was less than normal in quantity but grain surprisingly decent. Also finished oilseed rape last week with the crop again surprisingly decent particularly for dry matter.  Up until now we’ve been pleasantly surprised.

We will be starting winter wheat which we are expecting to be very short in terms of straw yield.

The ground is very dry with us and we will need some moisture before oilseed rape germinates. By the end of the week we will be starting to drill oilseed rape, sowing winter barley and we should have a bit more time on our hands than last year.

This year we have baled oilseed rape straw to use ourselves but also sell to one or two people locally. We would normally chop rape straw.

I think in our area this year more people are baling straw than normal, particularly baling oilseed rape straw. We also made hay from our set aside land.


Cameron MacIver, Wester Coltfield, Forres
Spring barleys have started in Morayshire a good 10 days ahead of normal with moisture low at 15 per cent, nitrogen higher at 1.6 and above average screenings. The straw yield is a lot better than expected with the grain yield back a good half tonnes per acre. It’s a case for us that any good land that held moisture is yielding very well, however anything that suffered drought is rubbish.


Willie Thomson, Wheatrig, East Lothian
For us at Wheatrig, the weather is going to put on hold any combining for the next day or two.

Winter oilseed rape has done 3.8 tonnes per hectare which is about 0.4 tonnes back on average. We have also made a start to some continuous wheat which is also well back on average at about seven tonnes per hectare. Other wheat which is still to cut looks to have much better potential.

Kelvin Pate, East Lothian
Only chasing straw, but winter barley is all cut in East Lothian.  We have started winter wheat in the last few days and winter oats.  

Winter barley yields are back half tonne on heavy ground but even more on poor ground.  Straw yield is well back on last year. Harvest started much earlier than previous years, and we are already cutting wheat as it has died on its feet in the heat. All my straw is baled away from home. My spring barley is getting sprayed off next week.  We have never baled wheat straw so dry – six per cent – with baling 12 hours behind the combine.  I have baled nearly twice the area to get enough straw to be sure not to run out compared with last year.

Neil White, Berwickshire

We have had another good day down here.  Some very local heavy showers stopped some progress inland but maybe encouraging grass growth!  As of 8 August, harvest is fully underway on most farms and things, on the whole, seem good.

Winter barley was around or just below average but with bold, dry grains and good quality. The oilseed rape seems very good so far, difficult to cut but with lots cut in this area and again bold seed and dry crops have been helping everything. Wheat is being cut with some early farms well through what look like good to very good crops with bold dry grain and a reasonable but not huge amount of straw. Lots of farmers are swathing straw which would normally be chopped, and the early dry start means the baling is going well so far.  Straw will remain at a premium price as the unprecedented demand will gobble up any extra out there. We say this is like an ‘English’ harvest with very little drying required and hot sunny days, but it could change.  The forecast says rain on its way but, if we don't get too much, the harvest could remain well ahead of schedule.


John Smith, Drumalea, Kintyre
Very little crop in the area with our focus largely on grassland.  With Kintyre in the spring being cold and wet, like most other places in Scotland, it left our first cut silage below normal yield, but it was however drier than normal. The second cuts were good and third cuts where normal fertiliser rates were used are looking ok. As we speak ground conditions are firm so will probably look towards next week to chop.


David Scarth, Regional Chairman
Orkney being livestock-based, grass silage is our most important harvest. Mostly all finished here, with the quantity less for most but good dry matter and quality should compensate somewhat. Some second cuts left to do are looking OK and we had enough rain in July to bulk up crops.  

Spring barley has not yet started to be harvest but should be under way in the next few weeks. This is earlier than in previous years but would be about when we would normally hope to get underway. At this stage grain quality looks very good but straw would be shorter than hoped for. As always, weather over the next month will determine how successful harvest turns out to be, but with hopefully an earlier start to harvest there should be more opportunity to get crops in store successfully.

Another harvest to consider is the store cattle and sheep sales due to take place over the next few months. The first of the special sales took place in Kirkwall and there will be many producers interested to see how the early sales go. Orkney has had a very good summer, dry but with rain when it was needed so stock have done well. There is concern that the dry conditions and lack of fodder in the rest of Scotland may supress prices somewhat. Also, despite harvest looking promising in Orkney there will still be a requirement to ship straw into the islands which due to high demand country-wide, it has never been so expensive.  

So, things are looking OK in Orkney but we will feel ramifications of the difficulties other parts of the country are having.   


Fraser Shaw, Dryfeholm, nr Lockerbie
Harvest started 10 days earlier than normal but only 3 days ahead of last year which was also very early. Some early spring barley on light land has been harvested. Yields are down but not disastrous. Straw has yielded well in the winter crops and the price remains firm. Some rape straw has been baled where weather has allowed. The weather has been kind and allowed for a speedy harvest but has meant that wheat and spring barley in particular has suffered.  

As for potatoes there has been no harvest started to my knowledge as most of the local crop is grown for the ware market but again the shortage of rain will have a big impact on the yield. The price has to increase which might mitigate some of the cost of yield reduction.”


Andrew McFadzean, Dalchomie, Maybole
Most winter barley is now done in Ayrshire – two weeks earlier than normal. There has been a good sample and bushel weight and yields are back - but only just a bit. One or two have just started to cut spring barley but no early reports on yields.  Harvesting here is likely to go on for another six weeks.

Tatties that have been irrigated are fine and main crop will be lifted in next couple of weeks

Notes to Editors

  • Photographs of harvest around the country are available on request from
  • NFU Scotland’s long-running annual Arable Crops Survey has begun for 2018.  Member information helps produce an independent estimate of crop production and increase accuracy of figures produced by the Scottish Government, Defra and the European Commission.  Growers who responded in recent years will receive a survey form and Group Secretaries will be looking for volunteers.  You can respond directly, downloading the form on the NFUS website or using the online system at this link: The deadline for responses to be received is Monday 24 September.  This deadline is earlier than we would like but it is driven by Brussels.
  • Details on NFU Scotland’s feed and fodder campaign #NFUSHowDoYouPlan can be found at:


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Author: Bob Carruth

Date Published:

News Article No.: 114/18

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