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East Anglia Future 50

Farmers look set to count cost, as hot, dry summer takes toll on crops

PUBLISHED: 14:51 13 July 2018 | UPDATED: 14:51 13 July 2018

A combine harvester working in a field of wheat in Mid Suffolk during harvest 2018 Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

A combine harvester working in a field of wheat in Mid Suffolk during harvest 2018 Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

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East Anglian farmers look set to be counting the cost as the combine harvesters roll into action this month.

A combine harvester working in a wheat crop in Mid Suffolk during harvest 2018 Picture: SARAH CHAMBERSA combine harvester working in a wheat crop in Mid Suffolk during harvest 2018 Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

While it’s too early to say how much the long, dry spell has hit yields across the board, there are undoubtedly casualties, particularly among farmers growing on light, free draining soil as opposed to heavier, moisture-holding land. Some of the region’s potato crops have also been badly hit by the high temperatures.

While fruit crops seem set for a good year, cereals, and particularly the wheat crop, look likely to suffer setbacks in some areas and come in some way below average. Livestock farmers will also be hit, with parched pastureland likely to lead to higher feed costs.

However, the picture is very mixed, and Euston Estate director Andrew Blenkiron, who is looking at bringing in half his normal wheat yield from his crop on the Breckland soils of west Suffolk, noted on a trip to the Scottish borders that wheat further north was still looking green and healthy.

“There’s some spectacular-looking wheat from Leeds all the way to Berwick-upon-Tweed,” he said. He added: “Winter barley is probably going to be around average and other areas aren’t going to be badly affected.”

Glenn Buckingham, chair of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), who farms at Helmingham Estate Farms, near Ipswich, said he had finished harvesting his winter feed barley harvest earlier than usual.

Moisture levels were around 12% to 14%, While his yield was down at around 8.25t/ha compared to more than 10t/ha last year, an increase in prices compared to last year would go some way to making up for the loss.

He had baled his barley straw with little compaction to the soil as a result of the extremely dry, hard ground.

Potato farmer Robert Strathern of Fairfields Farm has seen a hit to his potato yields in spite of the irrigation in place, after temperatures soared to above 25C, causing stress to the plants at Wormingford, near Colchester. “We did our first trial lift earlier in the week and early indications are that yields are 25-30% below average – not good,” he said.

Andrew Fairs, of Fairking, Great Tey, near Colchester, estimates his barley crop yield is about 20% below average, and oilseed rape 10-12% down.

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