Deluge 'too little, too late' for North East's crops

Farmer in the region have welcomed the latest deluge drenching their fields, but fears remain that it may be too little, too late after a prolonged period of sunshine

A wheat field Flodden in north Northumberland
A wheat field Flodden in north Northumberland

Farmer in the region have welcomed the latest deluge drenching their fields, but fears remain that it may be too little, too late after a prolonged period of sunshine.

The summer heatwave is having a dramatic effect on crops, according to Archie Leitch of specialist mineral feed company Almins.

He said: “The North East and Borders have been exceptionally dry. Grass growth has been affected and second-cut silage is not as good. A lot of livestock farmers are looking at incorporating whole-crop wheat into diets to help fill the forage-gap.

“Wheat is normally green at this time, but in certain cases has already turned brown. As a result of not having had rainfall for weeks, the plant growth shut down.

“Fields have been bone dry for weeks and extremely dusty, and a lot of farmers now consider this year’s crops will produce smaller grains.”

The 2012 autumn-sown crops have developed shorter roots than normal as a result of the wet soil conditions, and the soil allowed plants to readily draw up the water. This summer the resulting heatwave has left arable crops without the necessary deep roots required for the plants to fully develop.

Combines have started to roll during the past week in the South of England, but harvesting came to an abrupt halt after a swathe of deluge conditions swept across Britain. Prior to the weekend thunderstorms, moisture content was running at 20% and decreasing down to 16% for winter wheat.

The first recorded yields in England are reported down from last year, running at 5.7 tonnes per hectare level, the equivalent of, 2.3 tonnes per acre. Winter barley has been yielding four tonnes per hectare, the equivalent of 1.6 tonnes per acre, with a number of crops being crimped for animal feed.

As was recently reported in The Journal, oil seed rape crop desiccation is just starting, owing to the wet weather delay in sowing last autumn. Most crops are not now expected to be harvested until next month, placing further pressures into the system.

Rye crops in the South are moving forward and winter barley is not considered yet ready for pre-harvest treatment while wheat is considered some way off for harvesting.

Crops of potatoes and carrots were starting to get lifted last week and ADAS aims to start producing its crop reports later this week.

Some arable and mixed farms in the region will experience harvest work pressures, according to Mr Leitch. He said: “August and September is going to be intense as farmers juggle with harvesting and replanting for 2014. One of the concerns will be getting oil seed rape crops replanted, following wheat harvesting.

“Obviously farmers are seeking settled periods of weather and are all too well aware of the wet conditions of 2012 and resulting problems.

“Dairy, beef and sheep farmers need sustained grass growth and the lack of available forage is expected to have an impact on winter diets.

“It now seems likely that alternative feeds, such as dried distillers’ grains, will have to be incorporated into the rations.”

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