Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Big switch to spring cropping follows ‘wettest ever’ autumn

December 23, 2019 by  
Filed under Crops

A big swing swing towards spring cropping is on the cards with growers unable to get winter cereals in the ground due to prolonged wet weather.

It follows a 170,000ha drop in the area of winter wheat. Only 1.65m ha of winter wheat are expected to be grown during 2019/20 compared to 1.82m ha the season before, according to provisional figures from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

The AHDB’s Early Bird Survey provides a snapshot of farmers’ intentions for winter and spring crops. It suggests the winter barley area may also drop to 398,000ha – some 12% lower than the 452,000ha planted for harvest 2019.

Initial survey results were published on 25 November. But persistent wet weather since then means the AHDB will rerun the survey in the coming weeks to ensure it reflects the latest intentions of growers as winter progresses and conditions change.

AHDB analyst Alice Bailey said: “The unprecedented weather has led to a winter planting season unlike any before. There are significant swings in crop areas after the autumn deluge, as growers switch to spring crops in an attempt to sow in better conditions.”

This survey shows a swing towards spring cropping, with growers intending to plant 28% more spring barley at 915,000ha – the biggest amount since 1988. But that will depend on seed availability and cost, with some growers opting for wheat instead.

The area of spring and winter oats is expected to increase again for 2020 harvest to some 200,000ha. This represents a 10% increase on last harvest but again the final figure could change as winter progresses.

It remains to be seen how many fields with crops under water for prolonged periods are redrilled – boosting spring cropping area further still. While that will be the favoured option for some growers, others may prefer to tough it out and salvage what they can from waterlogged soil.

The annual survey – carried out for the AHDB by the Andersons Centre,  the Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) and other agronomists –  is seen as the first proper assessment of national cropping for the coming harvest.

Oilseed rape

It includes crops in the ground, winter crops still to be sown through December and January and intentions for spring plantings. Availability of seed for sale is expected to be tight – especially for more popular varieties – although some growers have home-saved supplies.

The survey confirms a further decline in the oilseed rape area, which is down 23% year-on-year to 406,000ha. This is largely due to growers cutting back on the area grown in response to crop damage and yield risk caused by cabbage stem flea beetle.

Ms Bailey said: “If there is further damage to crops over the coming weeks due to bad weather or pests such as cabbage stem flea beetle in oilseed rape, we may see further changes to these areas as we head through the winter.”

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