REPORTS FROM around the country suggest Scotland’s 2020 cereal harvest is now drawing to a close, while many parts of the country have been blessed with ideal sowing conditions to get next year’s crop into the ground.

Reporting on its annual harvest survey, NFU Scotland said this week that a full analysis of the the results was underway – but its initial figures suggest a wide variance in yields, largely driven by very mixed weather conditions at sowing, both in the autumn of 2019 and the spring of 2020, and during the harvest itself.

As a result, straw yields have also been affected, with some reporting a record number of bales and others left short of supplies.

Disappointingly, the union noted that spot prices, particularly for premium crops like malting barley, have struggled to cover the cost of production, and that was now influencing farmers' planting decisions for next year.

There were also reports of some disruption at intakes, a legacy of supply chains being interrupted because of Covid-19, meaning that significantly more grain is currently being stored on farms than would normally be the case at this time of year.

NFU Scotland’s combinable crops chairman, Willie Thomson, who farms at Wheatrig near Longniddry, said: “Harvest is finished for most farmers in East Lothian with just some later spring barley, oats and beans to finish off.

“Yields vary massively from some excellent wheat and barley to some of the poorest crops cut in living memory, with the wet autumn and winter followed by the dry spring largely to blame.

“Spring crops in general have been very good, which will have been a lifeline to many, but with over supply, low spot price, slow movement for some, quality issues and rejections casting a cloud over the malting barley harvest, this is reflected by many growers pushing on and putting in more wheat for harvest 2021 at the expense of spring cropping," said Mr Thomson.

“Winter oilseed rape has been sown in some great conditions, and lots of wheat and winter barley are due to be planted in the coming weeks.

“Forward prices for 2021 are giving growers confidence, but we are aware that these crops will be sold into the post-Brexit marketplace and that brings uncertainty.”

From Arbroath in Angus, Amy Geddes reported:“Harvest 2020 started for us with winter oilseed rape on August 6, and finally finished, after much stopping and starting, on September 12 with winter wheat.

“WOSR is all dried, delivered and sold, with final weights showing 3.96 tonnes per hectare and good oils at an average of 48%.

“Spring barley weighed well with average specific weight of 65 kh, but quality was mixed, with the wet/dry weather cycle causing some skinning of grain of up to 10%. Some poorer crop areas tested high for nitrogen, which we thankfully suspected, and kept separate from the main heap. This will head for animal feed in due course. Screenings were not too much of an issue, and overall, the crop came off at 6.85 t/ha for malting," said Ms Geddes.

“Winter wheat was quite a mixed bag yield wise, with earlier sown crops doing very well, and my February-sown gamble, which took an immediate soaking after going in, in near perfect conditions, scraping 6 t/ha! Quality looks okay, though yet to be formally tested, and an average yield of 8.70 t/ha is satisfactory given the year.

“Our 2021 WOSR is was all sown up by September 2, through the ground by September 9, and beginning to show the first true leaf by September 17," she added. "Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle is certainly there, though for now damage is tolerable.

“The fine spell of weather we’ve had lately has allowed us to get a good crack at early wheat sowings going in under great conditions, I am hopeful we’ll have all but the ground after potatoes sown up by this weekend, fingers crossed!”

From Balbeggie in Perthshire, Ian Sands chimed in: “Harvest in Perthshire is coming to an end with just some later crops to harvest.

“OSR yields were average to poor; spring barley has yielded exceptionally well and winter wheat has been okay. The star of the show for us has been spring wheat, which we grew for the first time this year, and it has performed far better than we had expected.

“We have OSR sown, which has been slow to establish, but is coming away now. We have just started sowing wheat.

“Harvest in general has been very stop/start with very few good harvest days," said Mr Sands. "It has not been an enjoyable harvest with far more malting barley going through the dryer than a normal year and wheat being cut at higher moisture.

“We chopped a lot of straw as weather has made it difficult to bale and the price is far from attractive to make it worthwhile. Wheat prices are good but spot malting barley prices are a joke for what is meant to be a premium product," he stated.

“We have been lucky and had all our contract priced barley moved off farm. A lot have not been so lucky. In general, the weather has made this a long difficult harvest and not a classic.”

From Greenknowe, Duns, Berwickshire, Neil White reported:“Cereal harvest has finished in good dry conditions. In Berwickshire, it seems only some spring bean crops are left to cut and straw is tidied up.

“Sowing has been going well with conditions reported as good on all soil types. Some rape has suffered a little from capping early on but is recovering now. There will be lots of winter cropping if the good weather continues.”

From Glenbarr Farms, Tarbert, Kintyre, Duncan Macalister said: “Harvest finished at Glenbarr with 105 acres cut with my 36-year old John Deere combine. And harvest is largely finished across Kintyre.

“Yields are slightly back on last year at about 2.5 tonnes to the acre, all grown for feed. Straw quality is not the best. A lot of it is very weathered but it is worth a lot here in Kintyre as to replace with bought in straw would cost £110 per tonne.

“Ground conditions were horrible at harvest with both combine and trailers making a mess. No winter crop to sow for me this year,” he added.

NFUS vice president Charlie Adam reported from Braeside, Alford, Aberdeenshire: “Harvest at Braeside has seen tremendous yields of Laureate spring barley. Averaging around three tonnes per acre at 900 to 1100ft above sea level means they are the best yields seen here in last 37 years!

“All trailers and available shed space are very full and with nothing likely to move off the farm in immediate future, meaning storage could be a problem. There is also a good amount of straw. Still have 25 acres to do but the weather is changing!”

The union's regional manager for North East Scotland, Lorna Paterson, commented: “Harvest is well through up here, although generally there is an East/West split, where the east of the area are turning soil black now with the plough, while some in the West are still dodging weather to cut barley.

“Yields have been very pleasing in general. Straw yields have also been very good. Quality of barley has been good in the early part of harvest. Laureate has struggled as time and weather went on, created skinning problems. Many crops of Laureate have been rejected as they exceeded the 8% minimum tolerance level," she reported.

“Wheat yields, in the main, have also been excellent. OSR yields were very good. People are talking about planning to sow wheat and OSR instead of spring barley next year. One substantial local buyer up here has written to all their suppliers and said they will not be offering any spring malting barley contracts for 2021, due to 2019 crop surplus in stores and the addition of this large 2020 crop. That is a quite a statement!

“The biggest issue now is movement of crop, with most farmers really struggling to find shed accommodation to store crops until uplift.”

Jamie Wyllie, of Ruchlaw Produce in East Lothian and Lanarkshire said: “Cutting crops in the Eastern part of the business finished two weeks ago. We just started cutting barley on land in Lanarkshire this week. We hope to have got through 200 acres of spring barley before the weather breaks.

“Straw yields have been terrible in general and crop yields have been average to good. Planting has started. All OSR is planted, winter barley is all in and we made a start on wheat last week. I decided to start planting wheat slightly earlier as we needed to get it in before the weather breaks like it did last year. If it’s a mild winter, we will fence the wheat and graze it with sheep,” he added.

Contract farming at Houston Farms, Renfrewshire, Willie Harper reported: “Harvest in Renfrewshire is almost gathered in which is great news. My harvest on contracted land for Houston Farms saw winter barley fail to reach a decent yield. Even more disappointing was the straw yield at four bales to the acre. A combination of a wet winter then a dry spring all worked against the crop.

“Spring barley was probably the best harvest in long time averaging 2.5 tonnes of grain and eight bales of straw to the acre over the whole acreage and most of it combined in August.

“No autumn sowing for me," added Mr Harper. "Last weekend’s three inches of rain made my mind up. It’s just getting too wet in the west for winter crops to thrive and pay."