Farmers hopeful for harvest as weather smiles on region
Arable farmers are forging ahead with this year's main grain harvest despite delays caused by extreme weather conditions and late sowing.
They are hoping for fine weather for the coming fortnight as farmers across the South West set about the 2013 harvest.
Growers are keeping their fingers crossed that combine harvesters will not have to dodge heavy squalls of rain over the next two weeks.
After last year's disastrous weather, which brought the harvest near to collapse, they are pleased with results so far – a conventional, if tardy, showing, which will not end up with a record, or even a "bumper" crop. But yields and crop weights have been good, and there is plenty of quality straw available following the dry, hot conditions. Even an average harvest will mean far greater availability of livestock feeds, with the knock-on effect of lower prices for producers.
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The torrential rain that heralded the end of the heat wave took a toll, though, with more exposed hillside crops taking a bashing. Depending on location, the harvest is now between 10 days and a fortnight later than usual.
Duncan Lyon, the grain-store manager at the Devon Grain depot at Cullompton, in mid-Devon, described the situation so far as: "Not a bad harvest at all."
The atrocious winter saw some very late plantings, but two-thirds of the barley crop expected at Cullompton has already come in, good yields for winter-sown, and "not bad" for spring-sown – and all a "huge improvement on last year". Bushel-weight (the capacity measure) was very good at 67 hectolitres, and moisture levels averaged 16%, needing only minimal use of the drier, which pushes up costs.
The oilseed rape harvest is halfway through, "surprisingly dry", but wheat was at least 10 days late and had only just started coming in, said Mr Lyon. Wheat bushel-weight was 74.4 hectolitres, which was 10.5 better than last year, and moisture at 17%.
"That indicates farmers are harvesting early, which in the light of what happened last year, is sensible," he explained. "Drying crops just a couple of points on moisture, rather than seeing huge deterioration in quality because the weather has turned, makes a lot of sense."
Oats, too, are very late, though yields have been up to the five-year average.
"Slow, wet and late" was the way farmer Michael Pearson described the 2013 harvest of 500 acres at Kingston in the South Hams.
"But we're expecting a big harvest in the next fortnight, so we hope the weather will hold," he said.
"The crops are generally looking pretty fair – so we shall just have to wait and see."