While dry weather during late spring has played its part in bringing harvest forward, it has also shortened the grain fill period of many crops.
Despite this, many farmers are reporting barley and oilseed rape yields that are ‘better than expected’.
Tom Bradshaw, who farms near Colchester in Essex has harvested about 40 per cent of his winter barley with 111ha (275 acres) left.
Yields on good soils have been slightly better than average, he says. “It is early days but yields are averaging 8-8.5t/ha – some better and some worse. Moistures are ranging from 13.5 per cent to 16 per cent and bushel weights are pretty good – in the high 60s from what we have sampled so far.”
The main winter barley variety grown by Mr Bradshaw is Bazooka. Winter wheat and spring barley are at similar levels of maturity on the farm and Mr Bradshaw thinks he may get into wheat later this week.
On lighter land, the performance of some barley crops has been more moderate.
In Northamptonshire, a two-row crop of Glacier winter barley at Moulton College averaged 7t/ha (2.8t/acre).
“This was to be expected since they were mainly harvested from light land after maize. But the average specific weight as encouraging at 65kg per hl,” says farm manager, Matthew Hague.
Oilseed rape harvest is also underway at Moulton College with a crop of Elgar harvested on July 10 yielding 3.4t/ha (1.4t/acre), despite being hit by cabbage root fly. “This hopefully indicates much better to come” Mr Hague adds.
Farming on the limestone brash of the Lincolnshire Heath, Mark Ireland has finished harvesting winter barley after the earliest start to harvest he can remember.
“We started on the July 4 and have had a good run, although we are frustrated at the moment by rain which is keeping us off the rape and the spring barley - both look to be ready.”
Mr Ireland says his Flagon barley crops produced ‘reasonable’ bushel weights and yielded around 7.6t/ha (3t/acre).
Further north, Richard Bramley of Manor Farm in north Yorkshire, harvested his crop of Venture winter malting barley on July 9 - the earliest harvest he has ever known.
The crop averaged around 8t/ha (3.3t/acre) with a bushel weight of 66kg per hl and nitrogen of 1.7 per cent. “We have had better but it is a good average. In light areas of the field it is well down but out of these there are some exceptional yields.”
While throughout much of the England, harvest has arrived around 10 days earlier than usual, in Scotland, the start of harvest is likely to be much more variable depending on local weather.
Gavin Dick of AHDB Scotland says: “Looking at crops over the last week or so, I suspect there will be much more of a spread out start than normal, but with the bulk being towards the end of the month unless a really hot dry spell arrives now – particularly further north. I think harvest will be early but not exceptionally so.”
Farming in the east of Scotland, Colin Dargie expects to see the first crops cut by the middle of this week with harvest in full swing the following week [w/c July 24].
“There are however crops still seven days away from pre-harvest glyphosate so winter barley could be a bit spread out. First oilseed rape crops are being desiccated now, so will be ready to harvest in around three weeks,” says Mr Dargie.
In north east Scotland, some oilseed rape has been swathed and winter barley desiccated and so harvest is expected to begin next week [w/c July 24]. Near the coast, some barley has been cut for crimping at moistures of around 30 per cent plus.