ARABLE farmers across the country have made an earlier start than usual in harvesting their winter and spring crops this year, and for some, it's been the earliest harvest yet, with many farmers reporting that they've cut spring barley two weeks earlier than last year.

It's been a mixed bag of reports though, as those who have harvested crops some 10 days earlier on Orkney, have found that the unusual dry summer for the island has benefitted their spring barley crops, with decent grain and straw yields reported and uncut crops remaining in good order.

Those farming in areas such as Nairnshire, Moray and Aberdeenshire have been badly affected by the drought and as a result have seen grain and straw yields back. One farmer in Deeside, reported that his crop of Concerto cut at the beginning of August had a grain yield well below 2tonne/acre, while another producer in the Black Isle reckoned that his straw quantity was almost half of last year's amount.

In the south of the country, arable farmers said that early established crops survived best whereas crops which were later sown didn't get a chance to establish correctly. Those growing potatoes said that crops that weren't irrigated suffered as skinnings and yields were down by as much as 20%.

What's proving to be the biggest problem across the board for is the fact that nitrogen levels in malting barley varieties are sky high due to a drier climate and a shorter growing season.

Reports by Katrina Macarthur


Martin Hay, Howe, Birsay – Orcadians have started cutting the first of spring barley crops and at the moment they're looking good, thanks to a dry summer which we badly needed. We've harvested 60 acres so far which is a good bit earlier than normal. Last Tuesday, we cut some of our spring barley which is a Swedish variety grown for seed and it produced a grain yield of 2.2t/acre and a straw yield of 8.5/acre (120 bales from 14 acres) at 22% moisture. It was sown on April 23 and harvested on April 21 so it was only in the ground just short of fourth months. I would say we're doing pretty good up here at the moment compared to those further south so we've really nothing to complain about. The only worry is that the store cattle price has fallen away a bit and that's mainly due to the straw and fodder shortages which our Aberdeenshire buyers are suffering.

There's still a lot of the heavy crops to get cup up here, so here's hoping for a good September.


Morgan Milne, Stanstill, Wick – We grow 600 acres of spring crops including 400 acres of malting barley and are about two weeks ahead of schedule than usual. So far, we've cut 100 acres of Golden Promise which saw the grain yield down 15% compared to normal and straw back for 40%. The long dry spell effected nitrogen uptake during the growing stage and then went into the reduced yield which effected the overall content. The first stuff we cut came in at 1.65% and it usually would be around 1.35%. The Maltsters had no option but to lift the bar this year.

Andrew Mackay, West Greenland, Castletown, Thurso – Our harvest kicked off a week earlier than normal and we've managed to cut a total of 288 acres which includes half of our own spring barley which is used purely for home-use. The feed barley varieties are yielding pretty well between 2.25t/acre and 2.75t/acre and we've fully better straw yields, with 5ft bales at 6 to 8 bales/acre. Moisture rates have ranged at 175 and 18%.

We're now gearing up for cutting 400 acres of Concerto which isn't quite ripe yet.


David Gill, Rosskeen Farms, Invergordon – In total, we grow 642 acres of spring barley and we've only 14 acres left to cut. We started cutting the oilseed rape on August 1 which is about 10 days ahead than normal and the spring barley on August 7 which is at least two weeks earlier. Our spring barley enterprise is 40% Concerto and 60% Laureate. It was Laureate that performed best but the yield certainly isn't what it should be but that's because it's been under so much stress. In terms of nitrogen levels we've been pretty fortunate compared to others as 1.71% has been our highest level.

Straw yields are back and Concerto has produced smaller bouts this year. Last year, we were pushing 20 bales/ha but this year we're struggling to hit 17 bales/ha. We've been lucky to retain more moisture due to the large snow fall in March and the haar from the sea. Across the board, I'd say harvest isn't going too bad in Easter Ross, with the combining itself going plain sailing and a bigger weather window to work in.


Scott Fraser, Tore Mains, Muir of Ord – This year's harvest was our earliest yet and we're almost finished cutting the 600 acres of crops which is mainly made up of spring barley for malting.

Last year's harvest was exceptional so it's hard to compare this year's results to last as it's like one extreme from the other. This year, we were getting about 6 bales/acre but are still left with less straw than last year. Grain yields were 3t/acre for heavier clay ground and 2t/acre for crops grown on lighter ground compared to last year's Concerto over 3tonne/acre and Laureate over 4/tonne acre. Nitrogen levels were well up on the year at 1.75% or 1.8% but we were getting some away under 1.65%.


Cameron MacIver, Wester Coltfield, Kinloss – Harvest kicked off about 10 days earlier than normal and we finished cutting our 220 acres of malting spring barley almost two weeks ago. Last year's grain yields were touching on 3t/acre and I'm hoping this year's will be no less than 2 1/4 tonne/acre.

Straw yields haven't nearly been as bad as I imagined and we're only marginally back on last year's quantity. We buy-in straw as well and usually have 2000 of our own bales but this year we've only made 1500 bales.

Nitrogen levels have ranged from 1.47% to 1.97% with good loamy ground having yielded terrific and leaving nitrogen levels low but any drought bits in fields have been rubbish.

Silage has been a bigger problem as our second cut produced 2 1/2 bales/acre which cost £31 per bale. We do have better quality silage though as it was cut so dry this year so hopefully we won't need as much straw for feeding cows this year. Having said that, in the last week, we've just started feeding cattle straw outside and the young stock are on hoppers.


Adam Watson, Darnford, Durris, Banchory – Our arable enterprise includes 500 acres of spring barley for malting and 50 acres of spring oats grown on light, sandy soil close to the River Dee. We started cutting Concerto and Laureate barley two weeks earlier than normal in mid-August and the yields were very poor at 1.6t/acre and 2 or 3 bales/acre. The Scholar feed variety which we recently cut at home on better land produced better yields of 3.3t/acre. Nitrogen levels have been as high as 2.2% but ranging from 1.8 to 1.9%. The straw quality has been very poor because so much of our crops were burnt. Barley cut at the weekend was 20% moisture and the first barley cut was 17%. We're usually self-sufficient in terms of straw but we've had to buy in 300 acres of straw in Montrose due to a significant shortage. One plus factor – the early harvest has allowed us to establish stubble turnips and forage kale for outwintering cows on.

Scott Taylor, farm manager at Haddo Estate, Tarves, Ellon – We grow 1100 acres of spring and winter crops and results are distinctively average this year. Harvest began 10 days early and saw winter barley average 3.2t/acre which was a lot better than we thought, with moisture between 14% and 17%. Oilseed rape suffered from the drought and was very burnt with yields of just 1.6t/acre with moisture at 75 to 11%. In our spring barley crops, Laureate yields were well back as we just scraped 2t/acre and got 3 to 4 bales/acre. Luckily nitrogen levels weren't too bad at 1.5% and 1.6%. We've still to cut 200 acres Concerto.

William Moir, Home Farm, Cairness, Fraserburgh – 2018's harvest started three weeks earlier for us. We grow 450 acres of organic spring oats and barley which goes for malting and feed. Straw quantity is not back by as much as we thought but we farm light, sandy soils so we never get big bouts. Averaging 4 bales/acre and around 2.2 to 2.4t/acre, with bonny thick bits nearing 3t/acre.

Reports by Kelly Finlay


Ian Dagg, Crailing Tofts Farm – The long hot, dry spell in the summer meant that we've had to irrigate a lot more than we would usually do, to try and save some skin finish and yield.

We're nearly finished on the cereal harvest, and the spring barley seems to have been OK, but it's been a struggle with the short growing season.

We'll be looking to start on the potato harvest in the next fortnight or so, and the tatties that have been well irrigated look to have done OK, but the ones that were left to fend for themselves more have certainly been slower to bulk. The skin finish looks not too bad at all, though.

Yield wise it's all been down to irrigation levels again – non-irrigated crops could be back as much as 20%, which is a pretty major hit.

It's all having a knock-on effect on the price of food – there's been reports of a price increase of 5% already, and the price of tatties will almost certainly go through the roof.

As usual though, it will no doubt be the big supermarkets that see the benefit of it, not the people out in the field producing the food in the first place.


Andrew Hodge, Rulesmains Farm, Duns

We're combining spring barley as we speak, and things are going OK to be honest. Yields will be back slightly, but not what I would describe as drastically.

Things were probably ready to harvest about two weeks ago, but we've had a bad run of weather since then, which has held the job up a bit. On average I would predict that almost all crops will be back on average 10-15% on yield, but things could have been a whole lot worse.

What we could do with now is a sold week of good weather to get things finished and tidied up.

We will be moving onto harvesting beans in the next few weeks, and looking at them just now, the crops seem OK, so fingers crossed when we get to lifting them that's still the case.


James Ferguson, East Linton –We had a problem with getting the levels of irrigation we needed over our crops during those weeks of really hot, prolonged dry, weather, and that's had a knock-on effect when it's come to harvesting.

We're lifting spring barley just now and it's definitely a fair bit lighter than we would like to see, and than we would usually see, which is frustrating, because it'll just roll over and be an issue as the season continues to progress.

I've been speaking to people getting ready to lift tatties, and they've been saying about their yields being predicted to be back as well. It'll definitely mean that the price of tatties, and other foods, go through the roof. If yields are back then that is almost inevitable, so the consumer, and the supermarket will see a difference. I would be surprised if Joe Bloggs in his tractor reaps the benefits of it, but that will remain to be seem.

It will also rely on quality not being too far back – prices will go up for the good stuff, below par produce won't cut it, regardless of how bad things get yield wise.


Ian Smith, Kilmaurs Mains, Kilmaurs – We're working away just now. It was a great summer, in that it was dry and relaxed, but between the 27th of July and the 27th of August we got one days baling.

The last month of broken weather has meant we've now got a severe backlog of silage, baling and harvest, and it can be hard to catch up with these things.

Once the rain came after the dry spell, the crops blossomed, so I don't see us having the same fodder shortage on the horizon that we maybe could have talked about in July. With the folk we deal with, we've seen reasonable crops of grass across Ayrshire.

We've not got right started on the barley or grain, and you can see some uneven ripening in some crops. That's the fault of the last month really, it's just been terrible.

Our problem as contractors is that everyone has their own wee window of opportunity to get things done, so it definitely puts pressure on us to get round folk when the weather is causing problems.

Grass-wise I would say our area has faired not too bad, I don't see people having to go daft buying in fodder down here. Yes people had light first and second cuts to contend with, but pits are filling up nicely, and third cuts will top things up.


Fin Hay, Easter Rhynd, Rhynd – We're cutting winter wheat just now, and it's going alright, but it's been very stop start. The weather the last few weeks has really been messing us about – last week in total I think we only got 12 hours of harvesting done in total, which is obviously terrible progress.

Yields wise, things have been quite mixed. Crops that were in early, and had got themselves established before the winter, have been yielding OK, but spring crops, or crops that went in late have been pretty poor to be honest.

A wet winter, followed by a really dry summer is certainly not conducive to good arable crops! The unfortunate thing about that is as well, is that it's nature, there's nothing us guys on the ground can really do to combat it to any great extent.

We're halfway through the harvest now by all accounts, we really need a good few dry weeks to get a good go at things and get things properly tidied up.


Colin McCrindle, Howgate, Dunfermline – Our yields across the board so far could be back at least 15% – probably 20%. We've not got all the final figures in yet obviously, but that's how it seems looking at what we're storing.

We were irrigating as much as we could during that really hot, dry spell, but it was becoming a competition for water with neighbours, which is nobodies fault, but it meant you maybe weren't getting the volume of water you were really needing to sort things out, and we're seeing the results of that now.

Quality-wise I wouldn't say things are terrible, but they're not at our optimum. The harsh winter followed by the intense heat was really difficult to combat.

However, winter barley has done well with us, with yields ranging from 10.2t/ha to 11.9t/ha and averaging 11.1t/ha, and the moisture content ranging from 13.6% to 14.1%.

We did cut it early though – probably as early as I've ever seen us bring it in.