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Worrying time for East Anglian farmers as long, dry spell takes toll on crops

PUBLISHED: 07:48 22 June 2018 | UPDATED: 17:33 22 June 2018

The wheat crop under pressure due to dry conditions at Andrew Fairs' farm at Great Tey, Colchester Picture: ANDREW FAIRS

The wheat crop under pressure due to dry conditions at Andrew Fairs' farm at Great Tey, Colchester Picture: ANDREW FAIRS

Andrew Fairs

East Anglian farmers are warning the situation for some of their crops was beginning to get “very serious” as a prolonged dry spell puts pressure on plants, particularly those on light, free-draining soil.

Dry ground cracking up Picture: BRIAN BARKERDry ground cracking up Picture: BRIAN BARKER

The lack of rain is taking its toll on wheat crops, with some yields expected to be “well down”, and Essex has been particularly hard hit by lack of rain.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) crops board chair Tom Bradshaw, of Fordham, near Colchester, said the situation was “beginning to get very serious” with no measurable rain on the farm in June and nothing forecast.

“It’s also been pretty warm and breezy. After the very wet late winter early spring this is about the worst prognosis we could have had,” he said.

His winter barley and oilseed rape would be fine, he predicted, but the wheat crop was beginning to suffer and he was getting very concerned about spring crops which were drilled extremely late.

Winter barley looking good in sunshine Picture: BRIAN BARKERWinter barley looking good in sunshine Picture: BRIAN BARKER

Andrew Blenkiron, of Euston Estate, said his wheat crop had been most heavily affected, especially on the lightest land.

“Thankfully we do have some wheat on a bit heavier land that is still green and just about hanging on,” he said. “Barley is reasonable and has filled reasonably well and it probably on target. Sugar beet is growing quite well but flags in the heat of the afternoon, maize is loving the weather and just about has enough moisture at depth for now, both really need a drink in the next couple of weeks or they will die back as well as the wheat.”

Irrigated root crops were also growing well, but it was a struggle getting around everything with the water. “After such a wet spring crops were slow to get going and really struggled. At the end of April, things looked great. By the end of May, the cereals were struggling again. Wheat harvest will certainly be well down on the year here, but heavier land farms will probably be OK, and will have benefited from the good levels of sunshine.”

Glenn Buckingham of Helmingham Estate, near Debenham, said rainfall in the early hours of the first day of Suffolk Show was very isolated, but fortunately his farm received 19mm. “I am sure it was a narrow band of rain that we caught. It’s set up our crops very nicely, so in general we do not have significant problems. Our spring barley certainly benefited due to the late spring and is doing nicely,” he said.

Bill Baker holds up ears of wheat affected by the dry spell Picture: BILL BAKERBill Baker holds up ears of wheat affected by the dry spell Picture: BILL BAKER

“But on recent farm walks in the Brecks and coastal lighter soil regions of the county it is undoubtedly having a serious effect and causing crops to die off.”

Predicted high temperatures and full sun was set to make the problem worse, he said, with no sign of respite in the weather forecasts.

“Our haymaking has progressed well, which is a benefit, but grass regrowth for second cut or grazing looks like it will be limited, so looking forward to next winter, forage could be short again because most stocks were used up this last winter.”

John Collen, of Gisleham, near Lowestoft, said conditions were “very dry”, with the situation for his spring barley “desperate”, but his wheat and rape crops were still “OK”.

Bill Baker's wheat crop near Bury St Edmunds during the dry spell Picture: BILL BAKERBill Baker's wheat crop near Bury St Edmunds during the dry spell Picture: BILL BAKER

Agricultural Horticultural Development Board’s (AHDB) Strategic Farmer Brian Barker, of Westhorpe, near Stowmarket, said he had heard reports of crops dying early, due to drought stress, with no grain fill occurring.

“I have only had 22mm rain in eight weeks, compared with previous three year averages of 101mm. This period of our crops’ growth is the vital stage, called grain fill, where water availability is key.”

Bill Baker of Drinkstone, near Bury St Edmunds, said his crops could certainly do with some rain, although on his heavy land they were doing well.

“Crops had been looking well but some are now suffering with only 1mm of rain this month on our farms. Heavy land wheats are holding on and the sugar beet look exceptionally well but lighter parts of the farm are now showing signs of stress and with the forecast set to get even warmer next week, I am nervous of the effect that will have on cereal yields,” he said.

Bill Baker's wheat crop near Bury St Edmunds during the dry spell Picture: BILL BAKERBill Baker's wheat crop near Bury St Edmunds during the dry spell Picture: BILL BAKER

Essex farmer Andrew Fairs, of Fairking, Great Tey, Colchester, said it had been looking as though they would be lucky with the weather, but they now needed some rain.

“The winter barley on light land is now past much help from rain and, to be honest, will be affected by the lack of water,” he said. “The wheat on heavy land is coping well, but on variable land is suffering. The spring crops have faired well to date.”

Meanwhile his borage, echium and pea crops were looking well, but some of his other specialist crops will need a drink in the next week, he said.

“On our heavier land, the ability for the soil to retain water means that the crops look well, especially if their roots are deep into the ground. On the light land, crops are and will be suffering without irrigation - which we do not have.”

The wheat crop under pressure due to dry conditions at Andrew Fairs' farm at Great Tey, Colchester Picture: ANDREW FAIRSThe wheat crop under pressure due to dry conditions at Andrew Fairs' farm at Great Tey, Colchester Picture: ANDREW FAIRS

Stephen Rash, of Wortham, near Diss, said: “It is very dry and starting to have an adverse effect on the cereal crops. This is a crucial time for grain fill and without rain, yields are likely to be down. Sugar beet is suffering a bit but has plenty of time to recover if we don’t get another 1976 type summer. We’re not short of grass for the cattle but without rain in the next fortnight, it may start to get a bit tricky.”

The wheat crop under pressure due to dry conditions at Andrew Fairs' farm at Great Tey, Colchester Picture: ANDREW FAIRSThe wheat crop under pressure due to dry conditions at Andrew Fairs' farm at Great Tey, Colchester Picture: ANDREW FAIRS

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