Suffolk: Heat means early harvest - but some crops are suffering

Combining starts in winter barley at David Stennett Ltd, Culford Lodge Farms, Ingham. The recent goo

Combining starts in winter barley at David Stennett Ltd, Culford Lodge Farms, Ingham. The recent good weather has enabled an early start on new crop cereals. Pictured is Oliver Stennett. - Credit: Archant

Glorious sunshine and blistering temperatures have meant that the first harvests have already begun in Suffolk.

The heat wave, which forecasters say could continue until the end of the month, has meant rain-soaked and wind-lashed crops have turned a corner and farmers now believe the harvest will be in full swing by the start of August.

But although the balmy conditions have allowed the first combine to take to fields in Ingham, near Buty St Edmunds, other crops – including wheat – are now showing signs of drought stress in what is the latest headache for weather-worn farmers.

Oliver Stennett, farm manager at Culford Lodge Farm, Ingham, said he started bringing in his first crop of winter barley on Wednesday.

He explained: “For this season it is definitely early. In terms of a yearly average, we’re about right but the weather has brought it on a bit.”

Mr Stennett said the early harvest meant the farm was able to spread its workload and could stand to reap the rewards at market.

He added: “It means we can sell crops slightly earlier. That can mean, because it is early, that we can get a slight premium on them. We could get an uplift of about £5 or £10 a tonne. It helps a bit. There will be no records broken this year but we’ll have an average harvest.”

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But not all the crops are flourishing in the Mediterranean conditions, with patches of wheat fields dying in the heat.

Mr Stennett said: “The wheat, in these conditions, especially on our Breckland is really to starting to suffer. The wheat is burning up. You can see the dry patches.

NFU Ipswich branch chairman Alan Mayhew, a tenant farmer on the Helmingham estate, said: “I’m on quite heavy land, so it has a greater capillary action from water flow, but it’s just starting to struggle a little bit now.

“Wheat really likes the early 20 degrees and lots of sunshine. But the excessive heat we are getting, wheat doesn’t like that very much, so the grain-fill period has been shortened quite considerably due to the intensity of the heat.”

Mr Mayhew said his records showed that Helmingham had only seen 2.5mm of rain in the whole of July. He added:”With the intense heat and sunlight, photosynthesis gets pushed a lot harder and if there’s not enough moisture in the ground, which is a typical situation in the Brecklands and the lighter soils towards the East Anglia coast, the wheat can’t keep going and it just dies back.

He added: “This time last year we were moaning because it was too wet. We’re not overly concerned, but there is sign of stress in the wheat crops.”

NFU combinable crops board chairman Andrew Watts said: “Any wheat which went into the ground in less than ideal conditions is now starting to suffer.”

The Potato Council said irrigators were being used around the country and those without crops without access to irrigation were looking stressed.