Rain-soaked August puts "dampener" on Scottish harvest

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.

Farmers across the country have been unable to get machinery into fields due to waterlogged conditions and are now faced with cutting several crops within any short window of dry weather
Farmers across the country have been unable to get machinery into fields due to waterlogged conditions and are now faced with cutting several crops within any short window of dry weather

Warm and sunny conditions in spring and early summer have provided excellent growing conditions across Scotland, but recent torrential rain and flooding have come at a bad time for the industry.

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 in order to preserve quality.

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The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland says effect 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.

Ian Sands, chairman of combinable crops at NFU Scotland, has described harvest conditions at his Perthshire farm as "very challenging"

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

However, the continued wetness means harvest for rape, wheat and spring barley will now have to be squeezed into the next available weather window and when ground conditions for machinery improve.

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

The union has said the situation is still “salvageable” and a “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.

“In Perthshire it is very challenging. The harvesting of winter barley and oilseed rape should all be finished but there is a bit of winter barley still to be cut and straw that has been lying for some time, waiting to be baled, is looking very weathered now.

“There is still quite a bit of oilseed rape to cut, which will not be faring well in the heavy rain we have been getting. Some losses will have inevitably happened.

“Spring barley is just starting to come ready so we will know soon how it has fared over the past few weeks of bad weather. Some small amounts of wheat have been cut and worryingly there are reports of it sprouting in the head already.

“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.

“Nothing will have been cut at very low moisture, adding into the mix a high cost of drying at a time when prices are falling. Wheat futures tumbled by £4 per tonne on Thursday to compound falling prices over the past weeks, making it a very worrying time now.”

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. “

But as well as the challenging conditions, uncertainty over the impact of Brexit is also causing anxiety for the agriculture sector.

It’s feared falling prices and potential unfair tariffs in the event of a ‘no-deal’ exit from the EU could also hit them badly in the next few months.

Mr Sands added: “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.”