Mixed Harvest Recovers After Long Dry Summer

Better than expected yields now being reported however straw yields down year-on-year

A long, cold, wet winter suddenly turned into the joint hottest summer on record for the UK, and Scottish farmers feared the worst for their 2018 harvest.

Thankfully, many farmers in Scotland have been pleasantly surprised by their harvests this year, reporting better than expected yields considering the tumultuous weather they have suffered.

With farmers inputting across most of Scotland, many are currently trying to finish off harvest in between spells of rain. Across the board many have seen poorer average yields from winter and spring barley as well as for straw. Through NFU Scotland’s #NFUSHowDoYouPlan straw and feed campaign advice was issued earlier in the season to encourage more people to bale rather than chop their straw, with many seeming to follow this advice.

The picture for wheat has been mixed, with some reporting good quality, whilst others stating that it got hit hard at the start of the summer and never fully recovered.

Spirits do seem to be high amongst members who feel it could have been much worse considering the weather we have had.

NFU Scotland Combinable Crops Chairman Ian Sands, who farms in Perthshire, said: “Going into the spring period with the bad weather that we had was a serious problem for many of our combinable crops members. Farmers had an uphill battle early in the year to get everything ready and planted for autumn harvest.

“Following up this wet winter and spring with such an unseasonably hot and dry summer could have been disastrous for cereal farmers who require a healthy balance of warm and damp weather to produce the crops that we are renowned for.

“Here in Perthshire, yields are nothing special but okay considering the conditions we have had to endure over the last few months. Straw yields have been pretty poor per acre but that is to be expected with the long, dry spell stopping growth.

“An upside of the hot weather is that most grain will be at an acceptable moisture and less drying will be required.
“Winter crops are getting sown into good quality seed beds and are well ahead of last year, when we struggled to clear fields of some crops and did not have the conditions to start sowing when we needed to.”

In the North East, reports from local farmers suggest grain yields are mixed, with winter and spring barley back on last year for a number of farmers in the area. Some have experienced better yields on heavier ground, with sandy ground producing worse yields than last year. Oats have been a real positive for the area with excellent yields compared to previous years. Across the region straw looks to be back around three bales per acre.

In the Lothians and Borders, yields have been varied but many are reporting being down on their yearly averages, however have been finished harvest ahead of previous years. Although more have baled rather than chopped their straw, most are reporting less straw per acre from last year.

Orkney farmers are reporting a reasonable yield for spring barley, which they were able to harvest in a stretch of good weather between the end of August and the beginning of September. Straw yields, like most of the country, are poor but that was to be expected. The wetter weather faced by Orkney from the beginning of September has meant slow progress for many.

Despite on below average yields of cereals and short straw in Argyll and the Islands, farmers are taking solace in the fact that the quality of everything harvested has been of an extremely high level. What has been a boost for those in the area is the surge in grass growth, producing an increase in silage during the end of the summer.

For Forth and Clyde area, yields have varied depending on the type of land but the weather breaking in August impacted on progress.

For those who haven’t yet done so, there is still time to submit your input to the Annual NFU Scotland Harvest Survey. Your harvest information helps produce a vital, independent estimate of crop production and increases accuracy of figures produced by the Scottish Government, Defra and the European Commission. 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.

Notes to Editor

  • Please see below input from various NFU Scotland members in the regions for you use.                                    

Lothian and Borders

  • Willie Thomson, Wheatrig, East Lothian, Lothian and Border Regional Board Member and Combinable Crops Branch Monitor for East Lothian: “Yields have varied but on average they are behind our five-year average. Quality and yield of spring barley have been pleasing, oilseed rape slightly back on our usual expectations but wheat has generally been poor. I think this goes all the way back to establishment last autumn when seedbeds were wet, then the snow and ice and then into the dry conditions of spring and summer. Prices are better than last year, but a lot has been forward sold at lesser values and there is not a big pile left to sell at the higher prices.

    “A lot of extra straw has been baled around here but straw yields have suffered from the dry weather too.

    “I am planning on reducing my second wheat area and adding in spring oats to our rotation for next year. There has been a lot of wheat sown already in the area which is earlier than usual, but conditions are really good, so everyone is cracking on.”
  • Neil White, Greenknowe, Berwickshire, Mid and East Berwick Combinable Crops Branch Monitor and Regional Committee member: “My cereal harvest, like the majority (but not all) in this area, finished in August - I think this is the first time ever for me. This was 20 days ahead of last year and 19 ahead of 2016 and 2015. I have all my first wheat sown at home and the oilseed rape is looking well and has past the threat from slugs and fly.

    “The harvest was good but not great, the yields were average at best for most things with the odd exception, some wheat, rape and barley on local farms have been surprising but on the whole, most would take their usual average this year as good.

    “The crop yields were variable, both in grain and straw, with some decent crops having very little straw and some average crops having a decent swath of straw depending on the soil type, variety and location. The crops were mostly very dry. The drier here has been used less than usual which makes harvest logistically easier and cheaper.               

    “It was needed as the weather did break for a while and the risk of getting caught out with a long, wet spell and very ripe crops pushed us on.

    “Apart from a few varieties of wheat which were prone to sprouting in the head this year due to very quick ripening and favourable conditions, quality seemed good.

    “Lots of spring and winter beans are cut and talk of disasters and low yields seem to be the norm, I would say they are below average after struggling with the cold seedbed then the very dry spell.

    “The mood is optimistic with crops going into good seedbeds, ground is in very good order and so far, things are still ahead of the norm.”

Orkney and Shetland

  • Kenny Slater, NFU Scotland Group Secretary, Orkney: “The spring barley harvest on Orkney got under way in earnest on the last few days of August with combines going flat out on first days of September - a little earlier than normal. Grain yields look to be reasonable but straw quantity less than average - on the whole, both the grain and the straw cut then were secured in excellent conditions. The less cheery news was that the weather switch was "flicked" at tea-time on 5 September with probably around a quarter of the harvest still to go - since when we have had over 70mm of rain and not a single dry day. With the forecast looking very unsettled for the next week there will be a lot of anxious growers looking for a weather window to get the harvest completed.”

North East

  • Davie Winton, Haugh of Birse Farm, Aberdeenshire, North East Regional Chairman: “Harvest on lighter sandy areas has been finished for a week or two with yields being light and straw scarce. On heavy land we are well on but still have some to do. Yields look better and there seems to be more straw.”
  • Jack Stevenson, Brangan Farm, Banff, North East Combinable Crops Representative: “Barley yield was exceptional this year at 3.5 to four tons per acre with plenty of straw similar to last year, a week earlier maybe.

    “Spring barley on the other hand was a lot poorer than last year, Concerto on average 2.4 tons per acre and Laureate better at 2.7 tons. Any fields with very light sandy land fared worse at two tons acre, our average last year was nearer 2.9 tons per acre so as you can see the dry weather this summer has hit us hard.

    “Straw on the whole back at least three round bales per acre but quality is excellent due to dry conditions at harvest, all the grain is passed for malting even though nitrogen levels are very varied from 1.4 to 1.75 with tons being short merchants are desperate for all grain.

    “Winter barley has been planted again in very dry conditions, so a little rain would help germination.”
  • Iain Wilson, Tulloch Farms, Laurencekirk, North East Combinable Crops Representative: “Winter barley yielded slightly above average, while oats were a tremendous yield both at very low moistures. A very positive start to harvest. We have probably sold more of the straw off both winter barley and winter oats than usual, however I would say this is more down to the fact harvest is early, with a decent gap between cutting and then needing in with the plough for sowing oilseed rape, rather than the straw shortage.

    “Our thoughts on whether to bale or chop straw will be exactly 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 its 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 are currently around a week ahead of schedule, however rain yesterday and today looks to have stopped things for a few days, and 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.”                                    

Argyll and the Islands

  • John Dickson, Scalpsie Farm, Rothesay, Argyll and the Islands Regional Chairman: “Harvest in Argyll is nearly finished, with only a few fields of cereals left to combine. This year’s harvest has been a fairly quick one due to light crops and a couple of decent weather windows.      “Yields of grain will be below average and it is definitely the year of the short straw but unlike last year it has been mostly secured in good condition.

    “Of more importance in this region has been the surge in grass growth during August and September which has enabled many farmers to make extra silage and fill those half empty pits. Most are now a bit more comfortable facing winter as what it looked like a couple of months ago.

    “Winter is still going to be a challenge, but l feel that we are in a better position than last year and although wet weather is starting to have an adverse effect on ground conditions no cattle have had to be housed yet.  Availability and Cost of buying feed and fodder is going to be a major worry for many this year so a good open and dry backend is what we need in the West.”

Forth and Clyde

  • David Bryce, West Cambusdrennie, Stirling: “My harvest is now complete, others still have pockets to do. After a dry summer the weather broke at just the wrong time at mid-August. Yields have been variable; barley is the outstanding crop this year on the heavy land. Drilled late it does like dry feet and as a result yielded remarkably and the quality was good. The spring oats are the reverse being too dry and affecting yields. The yield will be average but has yet to be weighed; it will probably be better than we first expected though.

    “Wheat suffered from a bad start and never really recovered unfortunately. Neighbours have fared better on different soil types with wheat, depending on when it was drilled. Oilseed rape I hear has done very well also with yields of two ton per acre for many. A good dry week is needed to get next year off to a good start.”

Author: Ruth McClean

Date Published:

News Article No.: 134/18

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About The Author

Ruth McClean

Having worked in the communications and journalism industry for the last 11 years, NFU Scotland’s Communications Manager Ruth McClean understands the needs of journalists and has extensive knowledge of the wider agricultural industry. After growing up in Argyll and Bute and working in the area as a reporter for local newspapers for eight years, Ruth joined NFU Scotland in 2013 in her current role. She is also Editor of the Union’s membership magazine the Scottish Farming Leader.

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