So far very good with the cereal harvest - Agrii - Connecting Agri-science with farming

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August 12, 2014

So far very good with the cereal harvest

Cereals are enjoying an exceptional harvest so far providing grass weeds and diseases have been sufficiently well-controlled, reports Agrii head of crop marketing, David Neale.

Winter crops are coming off in good time with encouragingly high yields and grain quality. And there’s been little, if any, need for drying.  Which is just what the doctor ordered given the disappointing state of most markets.

Unsettled weather in early August with torrential rain in places is putting a damper on progress. As far as milling wheats, in particular, are concerned we could have done with another week of decent combining conditions. Hopefully, though, this will be a temporary blip that won’t get in the way of crop quality.

With the overwhelming majority of winter barley safely gathered in across the country, we’re seeing many yields in the 9-10.5 t/ha range with bushel weights of around 70kg/hl. Some are a good bit down on this quality-wise but certainly not low enough to cause the sort of problems experienced by many last harvest.

Hybrids barleys have generally performed very well, with good yields and useful extra value in the straw. However, they are yet to open up a consistent performance gap over the best of today’s  two rows, making site-by-site evaluation important in future decision-making.

The spring barley harvest is progressing well too, with good yields, low screenings and relatively low nitrogens (due to yield dilution). While this generally bodes well for traditional beer and distilling markets, looking ahead we need to be aware that lager and export sectors want rather higher N levels giving plenty of opportunities for a range of specifications.

Although only around 15% of the national crop has been combined, winter wheat is also shaping-up to be a handsome barn-filler wherever growers have kept on top of black-grass, septoria and yellow rust, in particular. In these cases yields are ranging from 9t/ha to 11-12 t/ha with bushels weights up at 80 kg/hl and Hagbergs remaining nice and high – at least ahead of the unsettled weather.

As well as serious yield reductions, where black-grass has been problematic we’re seeing worrying levels of ergot in some cases, transferring from early infections in this alternative host.  In a season in which crop marketability will be so important, growers must be alert to this threat.

Generally good wheat quality so far this side of the Channel is in marked contrast to the French wheat crop, most of which is of only feed quality. While this may be good news for our export opportunities, it won’t do anything to help feed prices; especially not on top of a strong pound and big global maize crop.

A substantial UK wheat crop – it could well be up to 16.5 million tonnes – means stores are filling rapidly and haulage is in very short supply. Under these circumstances, I’d strongly advise against harvest movement wherever it can be avoided.

The same holds true for oilseed rape, although the harvest is putting far less pressure on most farm stores. There are some good 5 t/ha crops, HOLL varieties V316 OL and V295OL are yielding on a par with the best ‘double lows’, and oil contents are 1-2% higher than previous years. However, many over-the-weighbridge yields can best be described as decidedly average, struggling to reach the 3.5 t/ha mark.

This is especially disappointing with crops looking so well all season, although not entirely unexpected from past experience. Surprisingly high levels of light leaf spot have certainly been a major factor  in many cases, with Turnip Yellows Virus and pod midge also taking their toll in places and verticillium problematic where rotations have been tight.

The better OSR performances have largely come from wider rotations and soils with higher organic matter levels, providing some valuable agronomic lessons for the future.

One of the biggest lessons this year’s harvest is providing, though, is the vital importance having a good crop marketing plan matched to the farm cropping and business plans.

Barely 30% of the cereal and OSR crops have been priced forward – and only around half of this at decent levels – leaving most growers facing decidedly poor 2014 returns. Yet rapeseed prices of £270-280 and feed wheat values of £160-180 could have been secured for a proportion of the crop as recently as this spring. This would have made all the difference for many.