THIS YEAR'S harvest hinges on moisture retention, as dry conditions could affect Scottish crops, according to SAC Arable consultant Peter Lindsay.

Crops across Scotland are looking as good as many farmers have seen them, with moisture for the plant the last piece in the puzzle for achieving bumper yields.

Mr Lindsay said: “I can’t say there is a poor crop this year but from now on it is all about water retention to meet the potential.”

Localised showers have kept many crops in peak condition this season, with heavier soils performing well. However strong winds have often whipped moisture out of the ground as lighter and gravel soils look to have suffered recently.

“Sunday changed everything,” explained Mr Lindsay. “It was hot and sunny. I was driving round the country and you could see the fields with high organic matter in the soil were better able to cope with the conditions.

“The rain has been very localised – where I farm near Forfar we had an inch of rain last week whilst I know other farmers not far away who had only 3mm. This patchy rains means that thin soils could see an impact on yield if they haven’t had the moisture.”

Lack of rain might be worrying some growers for crop quality and yield but conditions for combining look optimum in the coming week, with sunshine and few showers forecast. Mr Lindsay said: “So far I have seen a couple of fields combined west of Perth and along the coast of Angus, but by the weekend I expect a lot of winter barley will be going under the knife. The crop has performed well with a good winter and we have seen very little disease issues in the fields.”

Scotland’s wheat crop is also looking well, according to the SAC arable expert, who said it had done well since autumn and suffered a low disease burden this spring and summer. There has been some yellow rust appearing but mainly in the susceptible varieties with low ratings for the disease. The sprays look to all have done their job, with the only big issue being the impact of wind delaying the timing of T2 which knocked a few farmers’ plant protection plans.

There have, however, been significant occurrences of Ascochyta disease, a fungal infection. This disease is usually a minor pathogen, often found associated with other damage to the crop, so it is very unusual to see it at high levels in Scotland. It was initially reported through the Crop Clinic, then growers spotted it from the Borders up to Angus in fields.

SRUC crop scientist Fiona Burnett has been studying the outbreaks and most are associated with wind damage at the time of flag leaf emergence. Early wheat crops where the flag leaf was emerging during cold easterly or northerly winds in May are particularly affected. The disease has a relatively low impact compared to Septoria so in most cases only modest yield drops are estimated despite the scorch-like symptoms to leaves.

Spring barley was sown in good conditions, but the cold April meant that some crops were slower to emerge than usual. But once established growing conditions were strong and disease levels were low. “Once the roots were down, the spring barley didn’t look back,” said Mr Lindsay. “Many farmers are thinking their crops have never looked so good.”

Oilseed rape is no exception from the quality crops across the country and is looking well. Mr Lindsay found the plants podded up well and this week crops are at the stage of desiccation or swathing if potato crops are near-by.

Winter oats are also looking strong in the field. They are ripening quickly and changing colour before harvest. The lower input crop has been popular as a half break crop, with yields hoped to be similar to a second wheat. However some smaller growers have been put off by Quaker Oat’s requirement for suppliers to be part of the Leaf Assurance scheme. Larger growers have often judged the bureaucracy of another inspection worth it to supply Quakers, but smaller growers are less convinced.