A ‘straightforward’ harvest but clouds on the horizon

Reports from around the country suggest Scotland’s 2021 harvest was a relatively straightforward affair, aided by long spells of dry weather, and many parts of the country are currently well ahead with the autumn drilling.

Harvest report painted a picture of mixed yields, with winter wheat and barley largely having been of high quality while many oilseed rape crops had disappointed.
Harvest report painted a picture of mixed yields, with winter wheat and barley largely having been of high quality while many oilseed rape crops had disappointed.

But, as if to prove the farming adage that every silver lining has a cloud, some of the shine has been taken off the reasonable yields and decent prices by huge hikes in the price of inputs such as fertiliser and fuel.

The current labour crisis and the disruption of the supply chain has also resulted in road haulage delays and seed delivery being slower than usual in some areas.

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Initial figures from the National Farmers Union Scotland’s annual harvest survey have painted a picture of mixed yields, with winter wheat and barley largely having been of high quality while many oilseed rape crops had disappointed.

“Harvest 2021 will be remembered for being straightforward with good yields, decent prices and dry harvesting conditions – most of us would take a year like this every time!” said the union’s crops committee chair, Willie Thomson who farms at Wheatrig near Longniddry in East Lothian.

Speaking about his own farm he said: “Winter barley was respectable without breaking any records, winter wheat was very good, spring barley yield was about average but there were very few issues with quality this year which made a pleasant change.”

He said that haulage had mostly gone well, and dry harvest conditions had meant that grain could safely sit on farm for a little while longer.

And he added that sowing of the 2022 crop had continued apace during the recent dry spell.

However Thomson said that rapidly rising costs for inputs represented a major cloud on the horizon: “Fuel prices are showing a hefty increase and fertiliser prices are absolutely eye watering – an increase of 250 per cent in some cases.”

With the current transport problems delivery of seed had also been an issue for some – as had the timely arrival of any spare parts required for machinery.

Amy Geddes reported excellent conditions from Angus over harvest, with crops needing very little in the way of drying before going to store: “Winter wheat and spring barley look to have yielded well despite a dry summer with final weights still to come in. Oilseed rape was very poor and looks to have scraped 0.4t/ha (1t/ac).”

From Stirling David Bryce reported a record number of days without rain, with the grain drier remaining on standby for most of the harvest but he added that yields had been mixed.

Neil White, Greenknowe Farm, Berwickshire said he thought almost everyone in his area would take a harvest like 2021 every year: “This harvest has delivered good standing crops with average or above average yields. Moistures were mixed but seemed to improve as the harvest went on and were not the extremes we have experienced in other years.”

He said that while the price rise for cereals was welcome realistically they compared with those achieved five or six years ago when inputs were considerably cheaper.

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