Summer rescues UK crops from slow spring start

Better weather in early summer has helped arable crop development despite a late start to spring, a new report has revealed

A field of dried corn plants
A field of dried corn plants

Better weather in early summer has helped arable crop development despite a late start to spring, a new report has revealed.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) report, prepared by ADAS, an independent provider of environmental solutions, rural development services and policy advice, estimates winter crops are 10 to 14 days behind normal this year, but states most crops are in good condition.

Arable crops were reported to have improved considerably in May and June due to better growing conditions as a result of increases in temperature, sunlight and regular rainfall. Problems were reported earlier this year owing to the wet spring weather; late frosts and intermittent snow, resulting in a range of growth for oilseed rape crops, as well as wheat.

Nationally, cereal farmers have been experiencing crop variations within fields, with some crops within the same field areas, at different growth stages to others. However, continued good weather, which has been forecast, is needed if the UK oilseed rape crop is to be harvested and fields cleared for winter replanting.

The continuing heatwave, which forecasters are now predicting could continue well into August, may allow some harvesting to start within the next few weeks. The first oilseed rape crops in the south of England had been desiccated and could be harvested in about two weeks’ time.

Crops grown on lighter soils are starting to ripen faster than those grown on heavier soils.

However, some wheat crops are starting to show signs of drought stress, especially those crops on lighter, sandy soils.

A decline in straw yield is also predicted, but this year, farmers may have the opportunity to bale more straw rather than chop through the back of the combine.

Cereal growers in the North East and the Scottish Borders have reported crops ripening quickly and, rapidly changing colour.

As reported in The Journal, water specialists are reminding farmers about the importance of water storage, conservation and the possibility of continued drought.

Northumberland farmer and agricultural contractor Chris Anderson, who farms at Gloster Hill, Amble, and neighbouring Broomhill Farm, states soil condition is extremely dry.

He said: “Fields are showing cracks across the soil structures and grassland is starting to burn-off.

“Farmers need rain in certain fields for livestock grazing and this could be a problem in the next few weeks if grass growth continues to stall. We expect to start harvesting winter barley by the end of July, followed by oilseed rape, spring barley and winter wheat.”

The Potato Council has stated irrigators were now starting to be used heavily and those potato crops without access to irrigation are beginning to look stressed.

The council’s first estimate of total potato plantings for the crop year is 121,200 hectares. This is down only 0.5% on the final planting figure from 2012’s crop year of, 121,800 ha. This estimate is provisional, being based only on a sample covering 60% of producers by area. However, many potato crops last year suffered due to the heaviest rainfall in over 100 years, with yields down by 20%-40%.

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