East Anglian farmers fear worst for some crops as harvest approaches

A drone's eye view of crop fields on the Euston Estate around the Breckland swales suffering from la

A drone's eye view of crop fields on the Euston Estate around the Breckland swales suffering from lack of water as the long dry spell continues into late June Picture: PETE MATSELL - Credit: Archant

East Anglian farmers are fearing the worst for some of their crops hit by lack of rain as they prepare to bring out the combines.

Harvest is set to begin over the next few weeks across Suffolk and Essex, and combines are reported to be already out in some parts of Suffolk.

But the signs aren’t good, and farmers fear yields for some crops will be down, following a record crop last year. In patches, they are being ‘burnt off’, rather than ripening naturally, due to the dry weather and heat.

National Farmers’ Union crops board chairman Tom Bradshaw, who farms at Fordham, near Colchester, said this June will be the first full calendar month that he hasn’t recorded any rain at all.

“Some crops will definitely be affected but we won’t really know how bad things are until the combine goes in the field,” he said.

East Anglian agricultural consultant Robin Limb warned that it was not only cereal crops that were being affected by the prolonged period without rain, as crops such as sugar beet were also feeling the effects.

“The protracted cold and wet spring delayed sugar beet drilling, such that the average drilling date will have been in mid-April, roughly a month later than normal,” he said.

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“Following last year’s record crop, this year is looking anything but exceptional.”

Emergence had been poor in many cases, and many crops didn’t meet the traditional benchmark of meeting over the rows by the time the Royal Norfolk Show got under way on June 27, he said.

“June rainfall receipts, so far, are about 10% of normal, and the prospect for much-needed rainfall looks remote, with the next week forecast to be hot and sunny,” he said.

“Lost sunlight interception by the sugar beet leaf canopy can never be re-captured. The best we can hope for is that the growing conditions from now on are favourable to be able to approach anything like an average yield in 2018.

“Cereal crops are also suffering, especially on lighter soils, such as Suffolk coastal areas and the Brecks. Barley crops are ripening early due more to ‘burning off’ than natural senescence. I have heard reports of sugar beet already wilting on lighter, sandier soils, despite the very wet weather only a couple of months ago.”