Harvest 2018 is now well underway with winter barley and oilseed rape nearly finished and we will soon be making a start on winter wheat.
The dry weather has evidently had some impact on yields, however the winter barley has held up surprisingly well, even on some of the lighter land. This could be due to the light land drying up earlier in spring allowing more timely applications, particularly of nitrogen, or the fact that the light land has been less effected by the late drought through being more advanced all season. I think we are likely to see plenty of variation and unexpected results this season and there could well be any number of reasons for this, it will just be a matter of knowing where to look for the most plausible answers.
Our oilseed rape has been under pressure the whole year, from difficulties in establishment, through to heavy pigeon grazing, the long wet winter and the late drought. As a result, it is coming in below our 5-year average and along with the increase in wheat price it is no longer forecast to be the highest net margin, not by some distance. Thankfully we have not had the problem of moisture contents dropping too low, as I have heard others have suffered with. The majority has come in between 6-8% and should therefore attract the moisture bonus without too much of a yield penalty. Also, oils appear to be good at around 46%, meaning that even though the oilseed price has not seen the same movement the wheat price has, at least there should be a reasonable bonus to top it up. Unfortunately this year is our last year of our LEAF contract on oilseed rape, and although we plan to stick with LEAF, it is unfortunate the future does not look great for this contract.
The wheat has turned quite quickly through early July, even on some of the heavier soils. I think last autumns wet conditions may come back to bite in a few areas where rooting may not have been as good (and deep) as it could’ve been. Some of the later drilled, or very heavy soils where travelling was restricted have remained quite green until late on, so it will be interesting to see how these end up performing, as fewer ears this season may mean better grain quality and yield. Here’s hoping anyway.
So far, the extra steps taken this year to improve communication between the combines, chaser bins and lorries appears to be paying off, with significantly fewer stoppages by the combines. It has clearly helped so far having a clear run at things, without enforced weather breaks, but getting off to a good start should stand us in good stead for the wheat harvest.
It is not only the commercial crops that have had a tough year as the countryside stewardship scheme winter bird food and nectar flower mix plots have also struggled with the dry weather. I was unsure if all of them would come through sufficiently to do the job they are aimed at, but I was pleased to see the phacelia coming into flower last month. Despite it being sparser than I would have liked, it has been full of bees, butterflies, moths and other insects, so clearly doing some good. I was also pleased that I was stopped by someone who passes the plot every day to ask me about it, so I was able to discuss some of the positive environmental work we are doing.
The 2019 oilseed rape area is destined to be down, not as a knee jerk reaction to this year’s harvest, but just the way the cropping falls. Assuming more typical yields it is budgeted to be back towards the top of the crops for net margin, along with some of the milling wheat. Varietal planning began some time ago, but I may need to reconsider to focus on those with strong autumn vigour in the absence of moisture at this rate.