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Combines out across Suffolk and Essex as harvest gets under way

PUBLISHED: 14:58 18 July 2019 | UPDATED: 14:58 18 July 2019

Combining in fields at Butley, near Woodbridge  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Combining in fields at Butley, near Woodbridge Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Farmers are feeling upbeat this week as the combines come out in force for the first time across the eastern region.

Harvesting the fields in Butley  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNHarvesting the fields in Butley Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Weather will play a key role in the coming weeks, and they are hoping for a dry spell for harvesting their barley, wheat, rapeseed and peas crops - although some rain would be helpful to boost others.

Sam Fairs, farms 1500 ha of arable land at Hillfarm, Heveningham, near Halesworth, and is expecting an average yield for his rapeseed crop - now ready to harvest.

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The crop is key to his operation, after he diversified into making cold-pressed rapeseed oil from his own on-farm factory, but it is under pressure due to an infestation of crop pest cabbage stem flea beetle and its larvae, which have cut yields by a quarter.

His barley, which is nearly ready, is looking 'OK' with rain at the right time for grain fill, while his wheat - still another two weeks at least off maturity - is looking good.

Crops in a Suffolk field in July 2019, during the run-up to harvest   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCrops in a Suffolk field in July 2019, during the run-up to harvest Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

His marrowfat peas still have a week or so to go, and his borage crop, while it is also looking good, needs rain before it is harvested in about two weeks' time. His maize, parsley and sugar beet crops also need more water.

In an ideal world, he would like some rain this weekend, then a dry month for harvest, he says.

"As a farmer it really is a tough time of year to know if you would prefer rain for some, or sun for other crops. At least we may get one or the other. Light showers will be the worst, as no good for a drink, and hopeless for combining," he says.

Euston Estate halfway through barley harvest

The oilseed rape (OSR) harvest in full flow at Hillfarm, Hevenham  Picture: SAM FAIRSThe oilseed rape (OSR) harvest in full flow at Hillfarm, Hevenham Picture: SAM FAIRS

Andrew Blenkiron, estate director at Euston Farms, near Thetford, farms 1,500 acres of cereals, half wheat, half barley, 800 acres of sugar beet, 1,000 acres maize for his on-site anaerobic digestion plan, 1,500 acres of grassland, and the estate also has 1,400 acres of irrigated root crops grown by RG Abrey.

"Winter barley harvest is now half complete, all of the light land has been finished for well over a week and we are just making our way into the crop on the slightly 'heavier' land."

As a result of the spring/early summer drought, his light land barley yields are much as expected, he says, at around 2.5t/ac (6.25t/ha), although the situation is improving as the combines move into the heavier land.

However, there are still a lot of green grains in the seed barley as a result of recent rains which have encouraged new shoots. "We are basically attempting to harvest a crop at two stages of maturity," he says. "Wheat is 'hanging on' well and although now maturing it still looks to be two weeks until it will be ready for harvest, I hope that this is a good sign as recent rains have helped to fill the crop and good sunshine will help to boost yield."

The oilseed rape (OSR) harvest in full flow at Hillfarm, Hevenham  Picture: SAM FAIRSThe oilseed rape (OSR) harvest in full flow at Hillfarm, Hevenham Picture: SAM FAIRS

Meanwhile, his sugar beet crop looks "fantastic", thanks to the June rains, although it has a long way to go yet, and his maize looks "as well as it has for a number of years", although it probably needs more rain in late July/August to be at its best. The grass situation is also looking good, he says.

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Harvest begins at Helmingham Estate

Glenn Buckingham, chair of Suffolk branch of the National Farmers Union, has taken on a new combine this year. He grows around 3600t of wheat, barley and oilseed rape, across 525ha of in-hand arable land for the Tollemache family's Helmingham Estate, near Ipswich.

The oilseed rape (OSR) harvest in full flow at Hillfarm, Hevenham  Picture: SAM FAIRSThe oilseed rape (OSR) harvest in full flow at Hillfarm, Hevenham Picture: SAM FAIRS

He has begun combining his winter barley crop, and thinks he will start on his oilseed rape crop next week. His winter wheat is at least two weeks off maturity, and his spring barley, three weeks away.

In general, his crops are looking good, he says, but he is not expecting a 'massive' harvest. The weather has been mixed, with a dry winter and spring, good rainfall in late May/early June and good sunshine levels.

Only the weather in future weeks can now put a damper on things, and it is looking favourable with no low pressure movements.

Tiptree's fruit season so far looking 'OK but not vintage'

Tiptree Little Scarlet strawberries ready for picking  Picture: IAN CLARKTiptree Little Scarlet strawberries ready for picking Picture: IAN CLARK

Meanwhile fruit farmer Chris Newenham, joint managing director at jam makers Wilkin & Sons Ltd, Tiptree, says so far the season has been "OK but not vintage" for his 150 acre fruit growing operation, and it's too early to say how the season will pan out for stone fruit, for example.

"As farmers we are always cautiously optimistic," he says. "It's an exciting time of year. We are currently harvesting strawberries, raspberries (red, white and amber), apricots, cherries, loganberries and mulberries and will soon be harvesting greengage, Victoria plum, damsons and, later in the season, quince and medlar," he says.

"Ideally, we would like 15-20C days with cool nights. This gives the fruit the best opportunity to grow slowly resulting in fantastic flavour and an excellent sugar/acid balance," he says.

"A little bit of rain would be good to help recharge our reservoirs but at this point in time our water supply looks reasonable particularly as we have increased our ability to store water through the construction of two new reservoirs in 2018."

Barley harvest nearly over at Fordham, near Colchester

Tom Bradshaw, of Fletchers Farm, Fordham, near Colchester, has already combine just over 400 acres of his winter barley, meaning that harvest is almost complete, with yields looking "promising" at slightly above average.

"The start of harvest has been easy with good weather meaning the barley is nice and dry," he says.

"Overall, the season has seen below average rainfall and at the beginning of June things were getting critical for moisture but with 90mm of rain falling through June this was just about enough to keep crops going and generally prospects are looking good. Unless we have terrible harvest weather then the wheat and spring planted crops look to have more potential than last year."

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