Heat is on with combines working flat out in extreme temperatures to bring in harvest

Euston Estate brings in its 2019 winter barley crop Picture: PETE MATSELL

Euston Estate brings in its 2019 winter barley crop Picture: PETE MATSELL - Credit: Archant

Suffolk and Essex farmers are feeling the pressure as extreme temperatures and harvest time collide – but they are more than up to the job, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) says.

Euston Estate brings in its 2019 winter barley crop Picture: PETE MATSELL

Euston Estate brings in its 2019 winter barley crop Picture: PETE MATSELL - Credit: Archant

East Anglian farmers are working flat out to bring in harvest during the warm, dry spell, which provides them with ideal conditions for combining their cereal crops. But among the challenges they face are crop and stubble fires in tinder-dry conditions, concerns about livestock welfare - and the risk that their oilseed rape crop pods will burst, releasing the seeds onto the ground.

MORE - Soils under 'unprecedented pressure' agronomist warnsNFU Suffolk county adviser Charles Hesketh said they were facing extreme conditions but said they were "well versed" in dealing with the vagaries of the weather.

The warm dry spell provided good harvesting and drying conditions, he said, but farmers wouldn't want to see temperatures persisting at the levels they will reach around July 25 at 34C.

"Those temperatures have the potential to trigger thunderstorms than can cause crops such as oilseed rape to shed their seeds," he said.

"There are also concerns about the risk of fires when the countryside is so dry, with potential causes including overheated farm machinery or someone discarding a glass bottle or lighted cigarette.

"The health and welfare of their livestock is paramount for farmers all year around, but hot spells bring extra challenges."

Livestock farmers will be doing all they can to keep animals comfortable and well-watered, he added. "This means extra work for farmers checking their animals and in some cases housing livestock or ensuring they have outdoor shade," he said.

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"We're an extremely important region for poultry producers and those farmers will be mindful of the risk of heat stress to birds during extended periods of hot weather."

NFU national water resources specialist Paul Hammett said some farmers growing irrigated crops could face restrictions if the hot dry spell continues.

"The east coast is renowned for its early vegetable harvest so farmers there are well into harvesting this year's crops. Nevertheless, there are increasing concerns about rising temperatures combined with lack of rainfall," he said.

"That combination could quickly have an impact on farmers who rely on river water for irrigation and we are in daily contact with the Environment Agency.

"If these conditions persist, the agency might feel it's necessary to impose restrictions on abstraction from some of our key Essex and Suffolk rivers."

Andrew Blenkiron, director at the Euston Estate near Thetford, where crops were badly hit by last year's extended June/July heatwave,

"Farmers have to work with the weather, that's one of the things that makes it so exciting.

We are well used to variation and there is almost always one weather record or another being broken. What we can do is ensure that we and our animals stay safe, good air conditioning in vehicles really helps us," he said.

"For animals its about ensuring the provision of shade and a plentiful supply of water and avoid handling them in the heat if at all possible

"For crops its about provision of water (if possible) and harvesting in ideal conditions, one example of this is that carrots are harvested through the cool of the night, its not so important for cereals but harvesting in the heat does mean that we have challenges in store to ensure that temperatures are brought down to enable the crop to be safely stored."

This year's harvest at Euston is well advanced. It winter barley harvest is almost done and the team will be making a start on winter wheat next week(week beginning July 22).

Some rain midweek damped the dust and freshened the estate's sugar beet and maize crops.

The NFU has also issued advice on safe working in the heat for farmers and farm workers. This includes advice to slow down and work at an even pace, to schedule frequent breaks, stay hydrated and to wear lightweight, loose fitting clothing to protect against the heat. See its website for more details.