Thursday, January 17, 2019

Challenging season prompts call to consider new crops

January 2, 2019 by  
Filed under Crops

Growers are being urged to consider whether new or different crops could help their farm business cope better with extreme weather events.

A fresh perspective on the challenging 2018 season is offered by results published last month by Strutt & Parker’s annual Harvest Yields Survey – which points to the challenges posed by extreme weather and climate change.

The analysis is a stark reminder of the difficulties faced by many farmers last year at a time when many growers are looking to the season ahead. Year-on-year yields were lower for all crops in 2018 apart from second wheats and winter barley.

Some positives

Winter wheat averaged 8.5t/ha in 2018 – higher than the Defra national average of 7.8t/ha but some 7% lower than 2017 and 9% lower than the five-year average. The data is based on nearly 50,000ha of combinable crops across East Anglia, the Midlands and south-east England.

First wheats averaged 8.7t/ha (down from 9.5t/ha in 2017), while second wheats averaged 8.0t/ha – 3% higher than last year, when second wheats struggled because of a dry start to the spring which limited the uptake of nitrogen.

Strutt & Parker agronomist Tom FitzGerald said: “These new results are a reminder of the difficult growing season many farmers faced because of the extreme weather in 2018, although there were positives such as some high quality crops, negligible drying costs and higher grain prices.

“While we had good establishment of autumn crops, a prolonged winter and wet spring delayed the drilling of spring crops and this was then followed by drought conditions from the end of May until mid-August, with ear emergence, flowering and grain fill all affected as a result.

‘Huge unknown’

“The weather is always a huge unknown for farmers so, once again in 2019, the priority should be focusing on the areas which growers can influence, such as boosting performance though close attention to detail and finding ways to make cost savings.”

Analysis by Met Office scientists suggested heatwaves would occur much more frequently due to climate change, added Mr FitzGerald. “Growers need to start thinking of ways to adapt to less moderate and predictable weather than we have been used to.”

At the same time, arable margins were likely to tighten as direct payments were phased out after Brexit. The chemical control of pests, weeds and diseases was also becoming more challenging, due to the reduction in available chemistry and growing resistance problems.

“Growers may want to consider whether there are new crops which could help to make their rotation more resilient to extremes of weather, for example by improving drainage and soil microflora or by reducing soil borne pests and diseases.”

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