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August 22, 2013

Southern harvest moves up a gear

Harvesting moved up at least one gear across central southern England in the third week of August, reports Agrii agronomist Iain Richards, although progress and performance remains decidedly mixed.

Some of his growers in south Hampshire are set to finish everything bar the linseed by the start of final week in August while others in the Newbury area are only just starting on their wheat. And there’s plenty of winter rape still to be cut further north around Swindon, in particular.

“Wheats on our chalk soils have been yielding especially well at 10.5 – 11.5 t/ha,” he notes. “And not just the Group 4s either. We’ve seen Panorama average 11.2 t/ha and Solstice
10.5 t/ha on the Hampshire Downs with really nice bold samples and bushel weights into the low eighties. What a change from last harvest!

“It’s been a less encouraging picture on the Oxford sands, though, with crops badly affected by the July heat struggling to do 7.5 t/ha. This puts a big question mark over how well the December and January-drilled wheats across our area will have coped with the hot spell hitting – as it did – at a particularly vulnerable stage of grain fill.”

Having said that, late-drilled winter malting barleys haven’t been anywhere near the disaster Iain Richards feared they might be when they were mauled in back in November. Although very short on tillers, they’ve seen excellent grain fill to deliver bushel weights more akin to wheat at 70kg/hl or more in some cases and reasonable yields of 7-8 t/ha.

“Our spring barleys have been superb,” he explains. “They’re all well off now at 7.5-8.5 t/ha with good low nitrogen/low screenings samples just right for malting. With such a large crop the premiums certainly aren’t there. But those that sold a decent part of their crop forward will have done very well.

“As has one of our large growers who’s been able to average the mid-£160s for wheat and £360s for rape by selling two thirds of the estate’s crop ahead of harvest.  It just goes to show how important it is to keep a balanced marketing approach, rather than overcommitting – as many did last year – then backing-off from forward-selling almost completely this season.”

While oilseed rape is nowhere near finished across his patch, Iain reckons yields are shaping up to be better than last year at an average of around 3.8 t/ha. Some crops have given over
4.5 t/ha but these tend to be the exceptions. And, interestingly, the highest yielders haven’t always been the earliest drilled.

“The main drag on OSR yields have been the large patches of many fields with hardly any crop at all,” he says. “Where the cover is good, the yield meters have been running at 4.5 -5t/ha. But big chunks of waterlogged and pigeon-devastated crop are really pulling the averages down.

“Hybrids have definitely coped with the challenges of the season much better than conventional varieties, many of which were never able to get away sufficiently in the spring to produce a decent biomass or depth of pod canopy. Overall, our hybrids are yielding a good 10% better.”

With the barley harvest complete, the next crop of winter OSR is already starting to go in on many of Iain Richard’s farms and with drilling expected to pick-up in earnest as we move towards September. 

“Thankfully, soils are far warmer and in an altogether better state than they were this time last year,” he points out. “This should give plenty of opportunity for good establishment well into September from the best modern, fast-developing hybrids. Which is just as well given how late many of the wheats are in coming off.”