Slow Start to Harvest 2016 but Momentum Building

Mixed picture on cereal yields but winds hammer OSR  

In the annual harvest round-up, compiled by NFU Scotland, arable farmers around the country have got off to a slow start but momentum is building.

Winter barley harvest is almost complete – at average to below average yields and quality – winter oats are under way and earlier areas are now moving into spring barley and wheats.  Those growing oilseed rape (OSR) have faced the biggest disappointments with high winds in mid-August shattering seedpods and stripping fields bare just as harvest approached. However, growers are persevering with OSR and plantings of this year’s crop are moving ahead.

For the East Lothian and the Borders, the harvest has been slow and sporadic, with OSR suffering due to the strong winds – potentially reducing yields by one to two tonnes per hectare.  Winter barley and oats cut look normal at this present time, with other crops due to be cut this week, weather dependant.

For the north east of the country, winter barley grain yields were better than some other areas of Scotland, however the straw yield has been disappointing after being impacted by the strong winds in August.  The strong winds, however, allowed for some crops to ripen and for a quick, dry harvest. Winter oat yields in the north east have been higher than expected, with moisture levels similar to winter barley.  Wheat is ‘some way off’ at present with growers trying to avoid heavy showers.

In the Highlands, OSR yields have been variable due to the weather, however for one farmer Concerto spring malting barley has been harvested a week earlier than last year, with good yields so far. Winter barleys have been average to disappointing.

For Orkney there was little movement on harvest last week, with little expected to get done by the end of August.

In Ayrshire, one farmer reports that winter wheat is done, with yields down albeit moisture was low. Spring barley is due to start soon, with crops looking good and heavy.

In summary, Ian Sands, NFU Scotland’s Combinable Crops Chairman who farms in Perthshire commented: “Generally this year’s harvest has been better in some areas than others.  The strong winds and heavy showers in August have had an impact on yields, particularly in the east of the country, with many waiting by combines to make the most of any dry spell.

“A lot of what we have so far is based on anecdotal evidence from members around the country.  As we now move into autumn, many will also be facing additional drying costs in a year when prices are very disappointing.

“At the same time, the arable sector is Scotland has carried virtually all the burden of meeting the ‘greening’ element of the new Common Agricultural Policy.  Gold plating by the Scottish Government around greening rules has impacted on our competitiveness.

“Combine the challenges of the weather with low commodity prices, and the arable sector is facing a disappointing and challenging year once again.”

Peter Loggie, NFU Scotland’s arable policy manager said: “In order to build evidence on the 2016 Scottish harvest, we are currently running our annual Combinable Crops Survey 2016 which will help to form an independent harvest estimate for the Scottish Government.

“We ask all growers to participate, and a form can be obtained by emailing or an electronic survey is available at:”

Notes to Editors

A round-up from the regions is detailed below:

Ian Sands, Balbeggie, Perthshire: Winter barley all cut now - very average yields coupled with extremely low prices for feeding barley below £100 per tonne just no use. OSR all harvested in this area but again low yields compared to last year; wind caused significant losses.   

Little spring barley cut but it is slow to come ready.  Some people have cut a little wheat which looks OK but not really enough cut to tell yet.  All-in-all looking down the barrel of a very poor year for the cereal sector - far worse than last year - as yields do not look to be making up for poor prices.  So down beat but that is where we are at.

Gerald Banks, Maud, North East: All winter barley cleared and baled:  grain yields and quality better than reports from south.  Straw yield disappointing.  Some heads lost in gales two weeks ago, but that ripened crops for quick dry harvest. Winter OSR: early areas cleared, significant shaking losses in desiccated crops two weeks ago.  Swathed crops being cleared every day there is an opportunity.  Yields not disastrous, but no records.  Sowing for 2017 going on full speed.   Spring barley:  first crops along Moray Firth started to be combined.  No yield/quality reports here yet, but imminent.  Next week will see rapid progress if weather on side.  Later sown crops in May are starting to ripen/die off following gales and downpours. Spring oats: from kale green to starting to go over.  Harvest at least three weeks.

Andrew Moir, Laurencekirk, North East: We started winter barley on 4 August – a week later than we would expect, trying to beat the forecast gales, lost a few heads but nothing disastrous.  Yields were average but with good specific weights for a six row variety.  Moisture levels ranged from 15 to 19 per cent. Spring barley was due to be the end of last week, some have been nibbling in lighter soil fields with poorer than desirable yields but with low nitrogen levels. I finished my winter oats on 19 August with yields and specific weights above expectations, with moisture levels similar to winter barley. Wheat some way off - possibly three weeks, one or two double-sown patches leaning after very heavy (26mm) of rain over last weekend.

Jim Whiteford, Highlands Regional Board Chairman, Tain: Tower winter barley harvested August 3, was disappointing yielding 3.25 tonnes acre and was thin; weighing only 55 hectolitre weight.  Continuing the disappointment was the 62 acres Alize winter OSR. The gales on Sunday August 7 took at least half a tonne an acre off the yield which will now probably only yield 1.2 tonnes acre.  The fields are greening up well so no need for a cover crop there. We have started Concerto spring malt barley harvest destined for Highland Grain a week earlier than last year, so far so good, yielding its usual 3 tonnes an acre 1.4 nitrogen; two percent skinning; negligible screenings; 18 per cent moisture but still early days.

Drilling winter OSR has started with 22 acres done by subsoiler type seeder with fertiliser and slug pellets applied.  It’s a very clever bit of kit from my local contractor.

Peter Macdonald, Byres Farm, Moray: We cut Glacier winter barley on 1 August, 50 acres (20.2 ha) which yielded 3.44 tonnes per acre (8.52 tonnes/ha) at 15 per cent moisture content.  Yield is back nearly one tonne/ha on last year.  Quality poor, light, thin grain with low weight, probably down to weather. Only highlight was we were able to market grain for feed without having to dry it. Spring barley is just starting to be cut in Moray over weekend.  We cut 60 acres of Concerto on Monday. Pre- delivery samples indicate that it will make malting grade with Nitrogen 1.42 per cent to 1.63 per cent range and moisture of 18.5 per cent.  Screening levels of 6.5 per cent, low percentage of skinning.  Yields estimated 2.7 tonnes an acre based on bulk in store.  My nitrogen and screening levels are higher than last year. (2015 nitrogen levels 1.7 to 1.4 per cent and screenings averaged around 3.7 per cent)

Cameron McIver, Wester Colterfield Farm, Forres, Highlands: Rape yields variable due to wind damage.  Winter barley yields good but some samples on lighter land not making weight. Spring barley started at yields of 2.5 to 2.75 tonnes an acre at nitrogens of 1.32 to 1.4 so far and moisture low.

Paul Ross, Regional Chairman, Orkney:  Harvest not started yet and unlikely to be much done in August except for some for crimping at 35 per cent moisture.

Willie Thomson, Longniddry (East Lothian):  Harvest in East Lothian has been a frustrating affair so far with winter barley yields and quality behind previous years.  Winter barley yielded 8.5 tonnes per hectare which is respectable but specific weights were down due to poor weather at grain fill. Winter OSR yields range from average to disastrous with high winds stripping lots of yield just as the crop was about to be combined, some farmers are stating they have lost half their crop due to the high winds.  Others who escaped from wind damage are reporting yields not in excess of 3.7 tonnes per hectare which is well back on the previous two years. Winter OSR plantings for next year continue at a steady pace, even though farmers have had a bad experience with rape this year, values are climbing and it is a crop worth persevering with.  The first spring barley and wheat crops have been cut in East Lothian.  These look to have potential but no word yet on yields or quality.  A lot of harvesting progress should be made in next 10 days, weather permitting.

Neil White, Greenknowe Farm, Duns, Borders: The harvest has been slow and sporadic so far. Winter barley was mixed but mostly good quality but the yield was back from average maybe 1-1.5 tonne/hectare reducing the top line by £90-£200.  The OSR was mainly cut during hot, dry weather saving some drying costs but both the very strong winds just prior to harvest, causing 10 to 20 per cent of the mature seed to fall onto the ground before the crop could be cut and the poor weather in the growing season took their toll on yields.  They look to be reduced by one to two tonne per hectare causing a large fall of up to £600+/hectare. Very little spring barley has been cut and growers already being warned of skinning problems.  It looks like a nervous time is still to come as crops are very mixed across land types and sowing dates. Winter oats are being cut between heavy showers this week and it seems yield is close to average but grain wet. Wheat looks like it may still reach normal or average yield but again not enough has been cut yet to decide.  Larger areas of wheat and spring barley may begin to be cut next week, weather dependant.  Some protein pea crops which looked good are reaching maturity and may start to be harvested in the next couple of weeks but the area planted is down due to the Nitrogen Fixing Crop rules putting many growers off. All this comes on the back of low commodity prices, high input costs and a lack of empathy from Scottish Government regarding greening.

Stuart McNicol, Lothian and Borders Regional Chairman, North Berwick: Rape yields were excellent until the wind smashed them, and as a result we've returned an average yield. Tried cutting Golden Promise malting spring barley on Monday night but moisture too high and haven't been near it since due to the high humidity and east coast harr. We are currently 10 days behind on harvest with no rape planted which is going to give a yield penalty.  Other farmers in East Lothian are in the same boat.  

Andrew Glover, Ayrshire: Good amount of winter wheat done although yields down due to wet winter and dry/warm spell in May but moisture good. Much of the winter wheat in Ayrshire is grown to crimp for animal feed. Spring barley due to start soon and crops are looking good and heavy but the ground is quite tender so hoping for dry weather to stay with us as it won’t take much rain to affect the ground.


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 205/16

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