Farmers frustrated by ‘wettest dry harvest ever’

Farmers have been frustrated by the “wettest dry harvest ever” as damp conditions stopped their combine harvesters rolling – despite August rainfall being well below average.

Forecasters at Weatherquest said East Anglia’s rainfall totals for last month were only 60pc of the long-term average.

But while there have not been enough showers to fill rain gauges, the near-constant damp, drizzle and humidity have delayed efforts to gather the region’s wheat and barley crops.

One Norfolk farmer, Joe Mitchell from Hall Farm in Repps with Bastwick, near Great Yarmouth, said this was the first time in 20 years of farming that he has not harvested a single grain before the start of September.

“It has been so wet, dank and damp,” he said. “We want to get our wheat in the shed in good condition but one of the big problems is that if we don’t get it dry enough, will it store properly?

“It is a frustration, but when the prices are so high you need to make sure you get your crop into the shed dry so you hold onto the value. The last thing you want is a shed full of mould and bugs.

“Our main concern is germination in our malting barley. If it stays damp too long the seed will start to germinate and you lose malting quality, and suddenly your nice malting barley goes in the feed bin and you take a hit of £30 or £40 per tonne.”

Mr Mitchell said when he eventually started harvest on September 1 the crop was “remarkably good” – although some had brackled, meaning the stem has bent over and the heads of the barley are low to the ground, making harvesting difficult.

With better weather forecast next week, some farmers have gambled on waiting, while others have opted to harvest damp crops with moisture levels higher than the optimum 15pc for storage – bringing grain dryers into action.

Nick Hood, of Heath Farm in Woodbastwick, is chairman of Yaregrain, the farmer-owned storage and grain handling facility at Cantley.

“It is the driest wet harvest ever,” he said. “It is strange. There are people irrigating potatoes, yet we cannot get out and combine.

“The Yaregrain team have been very busy. Most grain has had some moisture on it. At the moment they are dealing in anything up to 20-21pc.

“You either need drying and storage, or you play the waiting game – but then you lose quality. You start to lose kilo weight and physical yields have started to deteriorate in the fields, as well as quality.”

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