By Claire Taylor

IT’S A MIXED bag around the country for Scotland’s harvest season, with reports that yields have been good in most places, but the recent bout of bad weather has put a stop to proceedings, leading to increased drying costs and poor ground conditions.

Farmers in the north have missed the worst of the weather, with reports of less rainfall, making for better underfoot conditions, so combines have been able to get on to the fields without delay. With the weather due to pick up in the next couple of weeks, those who are still to begin their season are hoping for a good harvest. It is still too early yet to detect quality, but growers have reported no signs of seed germination which unfortunately is afflicting farmers further south.

With the worst of the weather impacting the south of Scotland, some fields and crops have been drenched leading to higher drying costs and delays to combining, with some farmers more than a month behind where they were this time last year. Yields are still reported to be high but problems with germination has left many doubting quality and praying for a dry spell to allow for spring barley to be cut, straw to be baled and winter crops to be sewn.

Nationwide, growers have reported some success with winter barley and small amounts of oilseed rape, but all are hoping for a stretch of good weather to harvest the rest of their rape, wheat and spring barley.

With dry weather forecast for the coming week, growers will be working day and night across the country to make the most of what could be a short weather window.

NFU Scotland’s combinable crops chairman Ian Sands, who farms at Balbeggie in Perthshire, gave an overview of the current feeling across the country: “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,” he continued. “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.

“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 anytime soon,” he explained.

“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.”

Mr Sands reported that he has already used 50% of the amount of fuel he used last year in his dryer and hasn’t managed to complete a whole day of harvesting with the intermittent rain.

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

The Scottish Farmer:

Fife-based farmer Zander Hughes cruising through harvest between the showers


Peter Moss, Muckle Ocklester Farm

“With the exceptionally early spring, barley crops are close to being ready with crimping already being undertaken. The great early growing conditions have meant some fields have lodged in the poorer conditions over the past weeks, but overall straw and grain yields are looking strong across the islands. More people experienced bumper silage yields with great grass growth, hay has been a bit more challenging to make with the patchy weather but most folk should have plenty of keep ready for the winter.

“I think we have missed the worst of the wet weather up here which I know some of the guys down south have had. June was pretty cold which slowed grass growth but overall I think it’s been a pretty good summer for us.”


Ranald Angus, Barrogill Mains, Thurso

“There is little action to speak of in Caithness at the moment. Winter barley yields have been quite good locally, but specific weights are down on last year. All eyes are on the weather for spring crop which accounts for the majority of arable acreage in the country. Some spring barley has been desiccated this week so the countdown has started albeit about ten to 14 days later than last year.

“Whilst weather in the south has been worse, we have still had our quota of poor weather resulting in a high proportion of lodged crops, although rain has largely dissipated before it hit us, and ground conditions are okay. The later harvest up here may be to our advantage, if we catch favourable weather conditions, however crop quality will be the primary concern of most. We certainly don’t need any further poor weather, as this would be disastrous, but it is still all to play for at the moment.”


Donald Ross, Rhynie Farm

“Early in the season we actually worried if there was going to be enough rain and moisture for the seed. It wasn’t until three weeks ago when the wet weather hit that we experienced some problems. Last week we recorded 28ml of rain and 71ml for the month. The problem here is that you could have sunshine on one side of the farm allowing you to harvest and a downpour on the other, putting a stop to play.

“We began our oilseed rape yesterday (Tuesday August 20) as we were waiting for a dry patch and once that is done, this weekend’s job will be to crack on with the spring barley. We supply Highland Grain and speaking to the chairman there, he said that the quality has been good so far and there is about 2-3000 tonnes of barley cut in this area.

“Quality and yields have remained up on the barley, but our oilseed rape has been distinctly average and seeing a lot of seed loss. We’re about halfway through and we’re taking in about a tonne-and-a-half per hectare. We have remained relatively unscathed from issues with germination which has been impacting farmers further south. Overall, we need three to four weeks of good weather to crack on and to lower drying costs, but we remain optimistic, as there’s no point getting yourself in to a cycle of despair.”

The Scottish Farmer:

RM and JF Seed’s harvesting team barrelling winter wheat on the banks of the forth at Dunmore Home Farm, near Stirling, using GPS on a controlled traffic farming system to reduce compaction and improve soil structure (Photo: Timney Rural Photography).


Jack Stevenson, Brangan

“Winter barley harvest is almost complete and it’s been very stop start over the past couple of weeks. There are still some areas with oilseed rape to lift that has been lying in a swath for three weeks and is not looking good. There are big problems getting straw cleared for oilseed rape planting and one estate near us has put self-propelled forage harvester into winter barley straw to get land cleared.

“We are getting very heavy localised showers nearly every day, making ground very wet. I anticipate that spring barley will be starting the middle of next week when hopefully weather improves! There is lodging in some spring barley fields and harvesting them will be tricky. It is a complete contrast to last year, with our winter barley yields down by 0.6 tonnes per acre.”


Amy Geddes, Wester Braikie Farms

“The crops have been looking great in the run up to harvest this year, some of the spring barley is a little too well and with the heavy rain and patchy weather we’re seeing the consequences with some crops brackling over.

“However, the forecast is showing a good dry spell towards the end of August and this should allow us to get the combine out and hopefully avoid any drying costs, while keeping the straw good and ready for baling.

“We’ve a new Alvan Blanche grain drier on the farm this season so we don’t have comparable fuel use and power costs yet, but close monitoring of this data for the future will aid farm benchmarking, and hopefully confirm it’s been a sound investment.

“The oilseed rape has done well this season, dried and weighed into stores, the oils aren’t quite so high as last year but a pleasing result overall. Half the cropped area was Diquat treated and came ready quite quickly. We didn’t cut again on the Glyphosate treated area until almost two weeks later, the crop stood up much better to the continual wet spells, though it made travel tricky in places.

“The winter wheat is going to follow the spring barley in quick succession, we’ve found the odd sprouted grain, and seen some grains on the ground, but once again if the weather is kinder we should be able to get on. A very busy spell ahead, but not quite time to hit the panic button yet.”


David Millar, Hillhead Farm, Monikie

“We had a good start to the season; our winter barley harvest went well and we had tremendous yields – probably the best we have ever had. However, then the wet weather came, and our oilseed rape was left lying in the fields, delaying harvest by a further week – we have only just finished, and yields have been average.

“Overall it has been a wetter harvest than we would like, our ground is soft in places which has meant we can’t get on to the fields. We started our spring barley yesterday (Monday August 19) but have already been rained off today. We were one of the first in our area to start on the spring barley and so far, yields are looking good, but it’s too early to tell the quality of the crop. We are predicting an issue with skinning, but we will have to wait and see. Last year was a lot easier as it was so dry, which meant we had no issues getting around, hopefully the forecast is looking up for the coming weeks.”

The Scottish Farmer:

The aftermath of the wet weather on Neil White's oilseed rape field in Duns, Berwickshire taken the day after it was cut


James Young, Girvan Mains

“It’s been a mixed harvest so far, but the last three weeks have been particularly testing. We are managing to get the harvest done and were out combining yesterday (Tuesday August 20) but on all accounts it’s not fancy. Crops in the area were looking so well, but now with the poor weather, a lot of crop is down and it’s a bit of a waiting game - whether they will be dry enough to get the combine on.

“Our ground hasn’t been too bad, but in parts of Ayrshire, as silage has been coming off the fields, the tractors have been breaking the surface which really isn’t good. We have an anaerobic digester which produces heat as a by-product, so we don’t have to pay for drying. We can take stuff with moisture content well into the twenties and dry it down – it’s a real benefit to our business. I appreciate that this isn’t typical of other farms in Ayrshire, which are facing increased drying costs. We’re still a few weeks away from sewing but all should go to plan if the weather picks up. If we get another four weeks of bad weather, then a lot of our wheat will be ruined and farmers in this area are all questioning whether they will get a third cut of silage in.”


Neil White, Greenknowe Farm, Duns

“Things are moving really quickly now as the bulk of the harvest is ready and it’s been a bit of 'snatch and grab' between the showers to get things done. With the heavy rainfall, the quality is beginning to deteriorate as crops have come to ripeness very quickly. The weather has been frustrating more than anything, a friend just four miles up the road was out cutting all night and we were rained off.

“Straw is a major problem in this area, our straw has been on the deck for five weeks now and we haven’t had a chance to bale it. A lot straw has been swathed and although it won’t go to waste, it will have to be turned, which will create a lot more work. Everything has to be dried, putting costs up, and our oilseed rape was at twice the optimal moisture. I should have had oilseed rape sown after the winter barley but haven’t been able to travel on the fields as ground conditions have been so damp. It’s a real change from last year which was exceptionally dry, which kept costs low.

“If the weather picks up, I can continue cutting my spring barley for malting and get it in to the barn before we have any quality issues. So far it appears to be a good crop, but some has been flattened with the weather. The hope is to begin wheat once the spring barley is done and fingers crossed it keeps dry for a couple of weeks at least, then I can go back and tidy the straw and begin baling.”


Fraser Shaw, Dryfeholm

“The winter barley is cut, although there is little winter barley grown in this part of Dumfriesshire. Progress is being made with the oilseed rape, but the weather has made travelling very difficult. Wheat will be ready to cut as soon as the weather improves. Oilseed rape has been cut but spring barley is still a week away.”