Cereal growers across the UK are significantly behind schedule due to persistent drizzle and downpours which have saturated the soils.

While many Scottish growers find themselves days or weeks delayed in their sowing schedules, some in England report being more than a month behind.

The Scottish Farmer spoke with Josh Stratton of JM Stratton and Co, located at East Farm, Codford near Salisbury, Wiltshire. Josh’s farm spans approximately 1400 hectares dedicated to combinable crops, with 400 hectares allocated for spring planting. This includes 320 hectares of spring barley and 80 hectares of peas.

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“We would normally be on the ground in February and finished by mid-March. However, here we are in mid-April, and we’ve hardly sown a seed. Since October, we’ve received 32 inches of rain, which is typically what we’d expect for an entire year,” Josh shared.

“Recent gale-force winds have finally allowed them to begin work on the fields, aiding in drying the soil sufficiently for sowing.”

The farm employs a minimum tillage system on its light chalk soil, using a 12m Horsch Avatar drill capable of covering 80 to 100 hectares a day. Targeting the malting market, the farm exclusively grows the Laureate barley variety, which is transported 40 miles to the nearest port and most often exported to France for distilling.

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“The soil was cold, wet, and miserable in February and March. We usually perform a single light cultivation, but this year we had to double our efforts. Initially, we used a deep tine, followed by a disc, to agitate the soil and promote drying,” Josh explained.

He further commented on the necessity of adapting practices in exceptionally wet conditions, suggesting that the principles of minimal tillage might need revisiting in such scenarios.

As for the yield expectations, the team at East Farm is cautiously optimistic but acknowledges the potential impact of the delayed sowing. Nature often finds a way to adapt, but the postponed planting is likely to affect the number of tonnes expected in the shed in early August.

Considering the unusual season, adjustments to nitrogen application in the barley are being considered to maintain malting quality. “Typically, we’d apply 150kg/h of N, aiming for a nitrogen level under 1.7% and yields of 8.5t to 9t per hectare. But this year is uncharted territory for us so we might reduce the application to save overshooting N levels,” Josh added.

Despite the challenges presented by the weather, the condition of the ground is promising, with warm soils and daytime temperatures between 12 to 15 degrees Celsius providing an excellent seedbed. “The optimist in me wonders why we should anticipate a yield reduction, but perhaps we should brace for a decrease of half a tonne. But you always need to be an optimist to be a farmer,” he concluded.