Harvest 2018

harvesthomeI know, I know; farmers are always moaning about the weather. One minute it is too wet, the next we are desperate for a drop of rain. This year though, there has been a measure of sympathy for our agricultural grumbles. We had unusually cold and then very wet weather in spring, and then such a very dry and hot summer we wondered if it would ever rain again. We soon forget once it starts to rain, but what effect did it have on the harvest?

There is bad news, as one might expect, but also some good news. The bad news is that yields (the quantity of grain harvested) were down 15 to 20%. One bit of good news is that we feared it might have been worse. I hesitate to write ‘summer of 1976’, as younger farmers roll their eyes almost before us older boys can get the phrase out of our mouths. As I remember though, yields were much worse in 1976. Other good news is that it was an easy harvest with no drying costs.

Harvest started two to three weeks earlier than normal with our oil seed rape. In 1976 (sorry, you youngsters) this was the only crop that had a near average yield. This year yields were well down. The wheat was combined next, with yields down again, with some varieties worse than others, particularly the early wheats. The quality of bread wheats should be good though, and this can be sold for a higher price.

Spring barley was the next crop to be combined. Due to the wet weather in the spring, this had been planted much later than we would have liked. It is often called ‘cuckoo barley’, planted after the cuckoo has been heard. It hardly has time to put down its roots before it is developing and it was always under stress. We were hardly surprised by a poor yield. Since it is a malting barley, we wait with fingers crossed that it passes the quality test. Some unexpected good news was that the scourge of arable farming, blackgrass (a weed) seems to have withered and died during the dry weather. We hope it has not shed too many seeds before disappearing.

The hot weather took its toll on our last crop to be harvested – field beans. It was so hot and dry that the plant decided to abort many of its pods. There was also a problem with bruchid beetles, which bore a tiny hole in the beans and ruin it for human consumption. A side effect that hardly qualifies as good news is that we had a spectacular aerobatic display by a hundred or so swallows outside the grain store as they twisted and dived catching the flying beetles that must be a swallow delicacy.

Harvest was finished by mid August. I am afraid I have to mention it again – the earliest since 1976.

Mike Hartley

October – November 2018