Gallery: Suffolk and Essex farmers facing crucial harvest period

FARMERS across Suffolk and north Essex face a crucial few days as the inconsistent weather continues to hinder harvesting efforts.

Farms are having to keep staff on standby and find other jobs to carry out while they wait for crops to dry out enough to be harvested - and forecasters say the picture is not looking much brighter as August continues.

A dry spell is expected later this week but the showers are set to return over the weekend, leaving farmers playing an ongoing waiting game with the weather.

Alan Mayhew, chairman of the Ipswich branch of the National Farmers Union, said he and his fellow farmers simply had to “watch the weather” and remain patient.

He said: “Every day for the last week or so we have had a nice morning and we get the harvest started and then the rain starts and we have to put the combine back in the shed and get on with other business.

“Back in the spring we thought it would be a bumper crop this year but all this miserable weather through April and May has inhibited the growth of crops which has meant the yield has been reduced.

“We have got to work with the weather, not against it and be patient and hope things go the right way.”

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Tom Bradshaw, who is based at Fordham, near Colchester, said the next 10 days would be “very important” for many farmers across the region and would go a long way to determining the yield and quality of many harvests.

He explained that because of the wet and cold late spring and early summer, his oilseed rape harvest was always going to be later than normal this year.

He said: “We would normally be starting on July 15 this year it was on July 26. We had already lost a fortnight of what normally happens and now we have got this showery weather. It’s a very stop-start affair and we have cut 20% now. By now we would certainly have 35 to 40% cut and last year it was 50% by now, so we are running well behind schedule. And then we have to start worrying about the quality of the yield.”

Forecaster Chris Bell, of Norwich-based experts Weatherquest, said he and his colleagues had received a large number of calls from farmers in recent weeks, all keen to know when things would improve.

He said: “Many of our customers are farmers. Anybody can ring up for a forecast but about 90% of our calls are from an agricultural industry.

“It’s a massive stress for them when you have the summer we have had that from April onward they haven’t had a consistent run of dry days.

“It’s going to stay unsettled generally speaking, but that being said, I think there is going to be a drier period from Wednesday through to Saturday. It will be drier and warmer than it has been.

“But there are signs that by Sunday and into the following week we will go back to the unsettled pattern we have had.”

MOST crops cannot be harvested when wet so farmers have to wait for them to dry.

Some crops can be harvested when they are up to 20% moisture but will not last in storage. They have to be dried down to at least 15% moisture, which can be done mechanically.

That is an expensive process which can cost many thousands of pounds and, in a year when yield and quality are under threat, that can have a major impact on harvests and profits.