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East Anglia Future 50

Farmers face anxious wait to find out how crops have fared as harvest begins

PUBLISHED: 11:17 05 July 2018 | UPDATED: 13:58 05 July 2018

A combine harvester at work on the Euston Estate as harvest begins Picture: ANDREW BLENKIRON

A combine harvester at work on the Euston Estate as harvest begins Picture: ANDREW BLENKIRON

Andrew Blenkiron/Euston Estate

East Anglian farmers' anxious wait to find out the effects of the long, dry spell on crops is set to come to an end as the combines come out.

A combine harvester at work on the Euston Estate as harvest begins Picture: ANDREW BLENKIRONA combine harvester at work on the Euston Estate as harvest begins Picture: ANDREW BLENKIRON

Harvest has begun in earnest on some farms, with others not far off - and for one Suffolk farmer it was the earliest on record.

John Collen, of Gisleham, near Lowestoft, started harvest for the time ever in the month of June, with the combines in action on June 29.

Some cereal farmers, particularly on light, free-draining land, have seen crops badly hit by the hot, dry spell and ripening early or ‘burning off’, hitting yield.

It’s hard to assess what kind of year it will have been overall until harvest is in, but some predict it may be around a five-year average, although not a bumper harvest.

Andrew Blenkiron, estate director at the Euston Estate, said it was looking as though his wheat yields would be 50% down on his average, and barley would also take a hit of about 10%. The combine began working on 125 acres (50ha) of his Bazooka winter barley and was doing “as well as we can expect” with a yield of 2.5tonnes per acre (6.25t/ha).

Crops on his light, free-draining soils have suffered as a result of the hot weather, combined with a drying wind. “All winter wheat is now officially dead, so I imagine that we will start harvesting that in another week, when we have finished the barley, weather permitting,” he said. “Irrigated crops continue to do well, but it is hard work getting the water around them.”

Hutchinsons agronomist Matthew Reed, who operates in Suffolk, described a mixed picture, with some crops too early to predict.

“Although there is some pessimism at the moment over the effect that the continuing hot, dry weather is having on the potential of crop yields, we must remember to take a wider view on farm sustainability and profitability,” he said.

Winter barley, the earliest maturing cereal, might feel a small effect on yield, but the dry weather would help with ripening and harvesting, he said. Oilseed Rape was one of the hardest crops to predict on yield, with its deep tap root able to extract moisture further down. However, winter wheat would be affected by the prolonged dry period, dependent on soil type, with an average yield expected of around 8t/ha. Higher grain prices would help, he said.

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