Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Farmers blame downpours and birds for poor harvest yields

HARVEST yields have been poor despite the recent warm weather.

HARVEST yields have been poor despite the recent warm weather.

Farmers say this year’s sunshine came too late for their crops, which had a bad start because of the heavy rain during the planting season last summer and autumn.

Some delayed sowing as the ground was too boggy while others saw their seed washed away, fail to germinate or be eaten by birds.

Some crops were lost in the winter frosts or during the heatwave in July.

One of the most common crops is oilseed rape, which is sown in August and harvested the following summer.

Two other staples are wheat and barley, which are planted between September and November and harvested 10 months later.

Michael Colston, who grows all three at Ewelme Park Farm, was forced to replant his crops in the spring because they had all died over the winter.

He said: “It doubled my costs for lots of things — soil, labour, fertiliser and so on — and the weather was still pretty bad for the next few months.” Mr Colston estimates that his yields will be about 25 per cent smaller than normal.

He said: “By and large, we arable farmers agree that yields have been appalling. It’s going to be a very moderate if not poor year for most of us.”

Simon Beddows, of Phillimore Farm in Dunsden Green, agreed that this year’s harvest yield had been “disappointing”.

He was unable to plant his rape, wheat and barley on time and lost crops too.

Mr Beddows said: “Most people have been about two or three weeks behind schedule all the way through since last autumn. A lot of our winter crops got washed away or eaten by pigeons — it was a bit of a nightmare.

“The only good thing is that this harvest has been very quick to complete because it hasn’t taken long to dry our crops. We would expect to have a yield of about 14 to 15 tonnes but it’s been more like 11 or 12. We usually have an exportable surplus but we will probably have to import this year.”

Stephen Doble, of Shiplake Farm, fared better as his soil contains more gravel and does not soak up as much rain.

He said: “Our yield has been average and the quality has been good but unfortunately prices have come down so there’s no overall improvement for us.

“Any farmers who couldn’t get their crops in last year will not have done very well.”

The farmers have higher hopes for next year.

Mr Colston said: “We’ve got the rape planted in good time and should do the same with the wheat and barley.

“If this dry weather continued until Christmas it would be a disaster, as would floods like last year. As long as we get moderate, average conditions then next year’s harvest should be all right.”

Mr Beddows said: “So far it’s okay for next year because we have dry weather and can get our planting done on time. We actually need a bit of rain next, although knowing the British weather, once it starts it never stops.”

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