Region’s combines grind to halt as rain wrecks high harvest hopes

A combine harvesting Barley in Brightwell Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

A combine harvesting barley in Brightwell before the rain set in - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Suffolk and Essex farmers are praying for sunshine as rain hampers harvest 2021.

Just a few weeks ago, cereal growers across East Anglia were feeling hopeful about prospects for this year’s crops – but wet weather and lower temperatures have put a dampener on their enthusiasm.

With more unsettled weather predicted over the coming days, their already late harvests have been put back further. It contrasts with blisteringly hot summers in 2020 and 2019 which made for easy harvests — although yields in some places were dramatically down last year.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) county adviser Charles Hesketh described a mixed picture for the counties’ farmers for harvest 2021, with some crops in but a delay on others.

“Harvest got off to a late but encouraging start for many farmers in Suffolk and Essex but it has now largely ground to a halt due to recent rain,” he said.

“Some farmers are happy with the progress made but others have suffered localised torrential downpours which have damaged crops.

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"One rain gauge at Brettenham (near Wattisham) apparently recorded 181mm in less than two hours on July 25 and one area of Essex saw freak hailstorms that decimated crops, including beans and oilseed rape. 

“To see a year’s work destroyed in a matter of minutes was devastating for the farmers concerned.

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“It is still early days in the harvest but the long-range forecast for August suggests there is more changeable weather to come. We really need sunshine and warmth now to ripen crops, including wheat and barley, and to bring them to their full potential.”

Glenn Buckingham, who farms at Helmingham, near Debenham and is chairman of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said the turn in the weather meant prospects for some crops were looking “ordinary” where before they were looking good.

“We would obviously like to be sailing along harvesting,” he said. But conditions meant cereals were slower to ripen — around 15 days behind a normal season.

“It’s a bit frustrating,” he  admitted.  “We have harvested our oilseed rape but we haven’t got to our winter barley yet.

“The day length is getting shorter all the time and crops are maturing later.”

Three weeks ago Glenn took the opportunity to go up in an aeroplane and was able to see that a lot of hybrid barley crops in the area had been flattened by storms. 

Tom Jewers, who farms at Rattlesden, near Stowmarket, tweeted of the rain: “Bearing in mind the 3ins of rain we had on Sunday, this is rather soul destroying.”

Suffolk NFU deputy chairman Andrew Blenkiron – who manages the Euston Estate near Thetford – said: “We managed to get the winter barley finished last Friday morning, all nice and dry below 12% moisture – although yields were disappointing and below average, almost as bad as last year.

“We did manage to get the first 60 acres of wheat cut yesterday afternoon and yields seem about average but at 20% moisture it is very wet.

“At least it is in the barn and hopefully milling quality is preserved – of course it is wet again now, so we are at a stop with wheat and with a poor weather forecast for the weekend we hoping that we can get going again early next week. Good job that we have some grain drying capacity.”

However, he added: “The sugar beet and forage maize are both loving the weather conditions.” 


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