As I write this article in mid August, the extraordinary heatwave is coming to and end and a more typical westerly airflow is bringing frequent showers.
Harvest for the North East is not a bumper one but there is relief that the extremes of the season have not had as much impact on yields as we feared.
Winter oilseed rape crop yields are slightly down on our long-term average, but generally better than it had looked approaching harvest. We saw wide variations in yield, mostly relating to soil type and drainage, along with the usual agronomic factors of variety, fertility and inputs. Winter oats ripened very rapidly in the summer heat, but produced respectable yields with decent bushel weights. Screenings have been an issue, especially on light land.
The wheat harvest started very early and is really rather good considering the compressed growing season we had. As with other crops, there is wide variation between land types; light land suffering drought at the end of the season, while crops on poorly drained land were more affected by wet conditions at the beginning of spring.
There is generally a wide gap between first and second wheats and some farmers are starting to question the wisdom of a second wheat. With higher barley prices and demand for straw, I think we will see an increase in winter barley in the North East. In terms of varieties, there are no big surprises.
KWS Kerrin is putting in a solid performance, as are RGT Gravity, Costello, KWS Siskin and KWS Zyatt. KWS Grafton and JB Diego are off the pace generally, while RGT Skyfall has been variable. Although I’ve cursed Revelation all year for being ‘slow and steady’, it is actually performing well on many farms. Quality so far is very good and much of the crop has been cut at lower moistures than we are used to.
In light of the wet spring, some growers abandoned their planned spring crops and put in summer cover crops ahead of wheat this autumn. Despite going in very late (end of April/May), these cover crops have grown very well, especially those containing radish. They have been an absolute hive of insect activity and I am hoping the deep rooting will help till the land while the biomass traps nutrient for the subsequent crop. In hindsight, I think this has been a worthwhile exercise, but no doubt the following crop will be the arbitrator. I have some growers on lighter soils, now using winter cover after wheat and ahead of spring-sown wheat which is giving a much better resulting gross margin than trying to grow winter wheat. This technique also gives us cultural control of sterile brome and is cost-effective to manage in terms of crop protection.
New season drilling is under way, with OSR going into moist soils as a result of recent rain. I think the acreage will be broadly similar to last year in this region. The summer drought has helped to crack soils and introduce air into the land and as a consequence land is working well so far.
With an early harvest we have more opportunity than usual for stale seedbed management and I am encouraging growers to use this to the max this year to try and reduce the grass-weed burden. We will start drilling wheat in early September, but we will need to delay where problem grasses occur.
KWS Grafton, Revelation and KWS Lili have been our staple early drillers but this year we will try some Gleam in this position as it has slow primordial development, stiff straw and a reasonable septoria score. Most of these early drilled crops are Redigo Deter (clothianidin) dressed to ward off aphids, which are barley yellow dwarf virus vectors.
So as the drilled area rises, my boots hit the ground for another busy autumn season.