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Full of extremes: The story of harvest 2017

Whether a season to forget or one which exceeded expectations, harvest 2017 has been full of extremes, not least in the weather. Abby Kellett finds out more.

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The story of harvest 2017 #FGHarvest17 #clubhectare

The ability of crops to cope with extreme weather has been critical to whether crops have thrived or simply survived this harvest, having first had to endure one of the driest spells on record during the weeks leading up to harvest, and being exposed to relentless rain thereafter.


As a result, yields have varied enormously, depending on soil type, location and variety. However, on balance, UK yields of both cereals and oilseeds have remained close to long-term averages, according to AHDB, with the exception some of crops harvested particularly late.

Kicking off about 10 days earlier than ‘normal’, the winter barley campaign showed promise, with ADAS figures showing a yield average of about 7-7.2 tonnes/hectare. However, crops on lighter soil types suffered as a result of dry weather.


By the time OSR crops were ready to harvest, wet weather had descended across much of the UK. In between rain showers, OSR harvested in reasonable time came in at 3.5-3.7t/ha, with oil contents of about 45 per cent.


By August 8, the 10-day advantage which had been gained from an early start to harvest had been lost, with harvest progress back in line with the five-year average. In an attempt to get wheat safely in the shed, many farmers gathered crops with higher grain moisture contents than they would have liked.


In England, wheat yields were about 2-5 per cent above farm averages in most regions, while in Scotland, some of the first wheat to be harvested yielded 6-8 per cent higher than the Scottish five-year average, according to ADAS.


A study conducted by Reading University found if it had not been for the period of dry weather during late spring, yields could have been considerably better.


Project leader Prof Donal O’Sullivan says: “We made side-by-side comparisons of the yield of 400 wheat varieties under natural field conditions and natural conditions with supplementary irrigation.


“Our preliminary yield results indicate this year’s drought caused a 28 per cent loss of potential yield.”


Although the first half of the spring crop campaign was pleasing for many, with spring barley and wheat yielding slightly better than five-year averages, persistent rainfall has meant some crops in northern England and Scotland are yet to be harvested. Where crops have brackled or sprouted, growers are expecting a significant yield hit.


Despite winter barley quality proving significantly better than last year, cereal quality has been a stumbling block for many, partly driven by the period of dry weather early in the season.


Tom Eaton, wheat trader at Glencore, says: “Milling wheat quality was variable, ranging from very good with 80kg/hl specific weights, 400 seconds Hagbergs and 14 per cent protein, to sprouting grains where Hagbergs were below specification and specific weights were low.”

Grain Wolds laboratory and logistics manager Dan Murphy says there was a clear difference in quality between early and late drilled milling wheats.

World record yields

World record yields

No stranger to record yield successes, Lincolnshire Wolds grower Tim Lamyman, Worlaby Farms, set a new world record yield with a 6.47-tonne/hectare crop of LG Stallion large blue peas. The record-breaking crop was harvested on August 25 at 15.35 per cent moisture, having performed well throughout the season. It easily exceeds the previous world record of 5.21t/ha achieved in Ireland.


This followed Mr Lamyman’s attempt at beating his own OSR world yield record of 6.7t/ha set in 2015, which he narrowly missed out on, achieving a respectable 6.1t/ha when adjusted for oil content.

He says: “Early harvested wheats were okay to start with, then we got a lot of rain through the first half of August. As a result, any early drilled milling varieties - Skyfall stands out - suffered with Hagbergs dropping off. Some Hagbergs were at 100 seconds or less.


“By the time it dried up in the second half of August, you could tell there was a big difference between the quality of the early drilled and later drilled milling wheats, with later drilled crops missing the worst of the wet weather at that critical time.”


High N levels have also been an issue in some spring barley malting varieties.


See also: PICTURE GALLERY: Harvest 2017 - How's your #FGHarvest17 going?


Mr Hoyland says: “The main variety is Propino, accounting for almost 50 per cent of the total area. It has had high Ns with, in some areas, more than 50 per cent being in excess of the usual 1.85 per cent N contract specification.”

Pre-germination of malting barley has also affected grain quality, resulting in some rejections at store.

AHDB Recommended list (RL) results


Top yielding varieties excluding candidate varieties (percentage of control achieved in 2017)

2017 mean yield of control varieties (t/ha)

Long-term mean yield of control varieties (t/ha)

Winter wheat:




Group 1

KWS Zyatt (103)

Group 2

KWS Siskin (102)

Group 3

Barrel (103)

Group 4 - hard

Graham (104)

Group 4 - Soft

Bennington (102) Hardwicke (102)

Spring barley:





Scholar (104)

Malt distilling

Sienna (105)


RGT Planet (105)

Brewing and distilling

Laureate (105)

Winter barley:




Six-row hybrid

Belfry (112) Bazooka (112)

Six-row conventional

Funky (111)

Two-row feed

KWS Orwell (106) California (106)

Two-row malting

Craft (98)

Winter oilseed rape:





Wembley (105)


Campus (106)


Source: Adapted from AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds


The average yield of this year’s AHDB Recommended List trial wheat control varieties was 10.99 t/ha as of October 3, just behind the five-year average of 11.03t/ha.

This contradicted on-farm reports which suggested yields were up on previous years.


Winter barley crops have averaged 9.52t/ha, contributing to a five-year average yield of 9.59t/ha. However, spring barley failed to match the five-year average of 7.77t/ha, achieving 7.42t/ha.


Oilseed rape control varieties averaged 5.51t/ha, comparable to the four-year average.

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