Farmers under stress as soggy August puts dampener on Scottish harvest

Wet weather has hit this year's harvest badly.
Wet weather has hit this year's harvest badly.

Scottish farmers are holding their breath for a break in the wet weather to complete this year’s harvest and protect the quality of what could be a bumper haul.

Warm and sunny conditions in spring and early summer provided excellent growing conditions across most of the country, but the recent spate of torrential rain and flooding has come at a bad time for the industry.

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In most places the ground has been too waterlogged to allow machinery into fields to cut and crops are likely to need costly drying once they are gathered to preserve the quality of produce.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland says the impact of August’s heavy rainfall is not yet “a disaster”, but has certainly put “a dampener” on planned operations, with workers left watching the skies and waiting for opportunities to get tractors deployed.

Members around the country have been reporting some success with winter barley and small amounts of oilseed rape.

However, continuing downpours mean harvesting for rape, wheat and spring barley will now have to be squeezed into the next available window of good weather and when ground conditions for machinery improve.

Sowing winter crops of rape, wheat and barley may also be delayed, they say.

The union said the situation was still “salvageable” and even one “nice week of dry weather” in the next month could be enough to ensure a good harvest.

Ian Sands, NFU Scotland’s combinable crops chairman, farms at Balbeggie in Perthshire.

He said: “Growers the length and breadth of Scotland all seem to be in the same boat as we watch the promise of a very good harvest falter in the wet weather.

“Regardless of what crop anyone is trying to harvest, the fields are very soft for travelling across with combines and trailers and, with more rain forecast, this will not improve any time soon.”

Neil White, from Greenknowe in Duns, Berwickshire, said: “Harvest is progressing, but at a very slow pace.

“Cutting decisions are made by the forecast and the potential deterioration in grain quality rather than moisture.”

He added: “It is not all gloomy as the crops cut are good, but remaining ones are deteriorating in the wet and the bulk of the harvest is still to come.”

As well as the challenging conditions, uncertainty over the impact of Brexit, particularly in the event of “no-deal”, are also causing anxiety for the agriculture sector.

Mr Sands said: “The feared Brexit speculation that prices would fall is not speculation any more – it is a reality.

“Hopefully the weather picks up and quick progress can be made through the main part of the harvest and we can get next year’s crops back in the ground in decent conditions.”