Normally at this time of year, the lion’s share of harvest is completed. But with intermittent rain preventing significant progress in many parts and a considerable proportion of crops being spring sown, there is still ample to do. Rather inevitably, it has been uneven, more so than usual. In parts of the South and East some might have all-but finished. Further into the Midlands, West, North and Scotland, it is only just starting.
Growers on lighter soils appear to have experienced greater yield reductions, suggesting the spring drought was more damaging to crops than the winter rains were; at least for those that made it through to harvest at all. On the whole, many growers have a higher winter wheat yield than they thought likely back in February before the rain stopped, but many fields are patchy. Most still agree yields will not reach the 5-year average.
Oilseed rape has been overwhelmingly poor and most opinions canvassed suggest a national yield of perhaps 2.5t per Ha will be as good as it gets. The official yield will be affected by how much land farmers decided to re-classify as fallow or was re-drilled in the spring. Plenty of farms drilled 120% of their farm this year; their failed OSR area eventually harvesting a crop of beans or spring oats.
So, what are growers going to do this Autumn? Most people are expecting a serious decline in the OSR cropped area. However, the harvested area of OSR might actually increase next year. We estimate a 25% write-off from this year’s OSR crop that did not reach harvest. If next year, the percentage written off falls to a more typical 7%, then a decline in planted area from our estimate of 495,000 hectares in 2019 to a possible 410,000 this autumn would still leave more harvested winter OSR.
Simply replacing OSR with another break crop may not solve the problem. Whilst crops such as pulses provide a break from cereals and offer soil and following-crop benefits, they might not demonstrate such high potential gross margins and could also become squashed in the rotation, affecting their long-term yields.
Some farmers are increasingly collaborating with nearby dairy or AD farmers to offer wholecrop rye, grass fields, as well as other cereals. Interestingly, the harsh winter of 2012 led many cereal farmers to grow (spring) oats. Their positive outcome meant the oat area has been higher than pre-2012 every year apart from one. A surge in oat area this year too, might see something similar happen – depending on market demand. Spring barley area has also been on an upwards trend with possibly a million hectares being harvested in the current year. The gradual rise of spring crops can also be seen by a slow decline in winter cropping including wheat which, until 2008, topped 2 million hectares on a few occasions, and now averages 1.8 million.
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