Rise in winter barley and oil seed rape yields say farmers

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It’s ‘take your pick’ for views on harvest progress. Take wo headlines in the same farming paper at the end of last week. On the news pages it was ‘Catastrophic Harvest Looms.’ In the more balanced arable section the heading was ‘Harvest Yields Looking Good.’

I know which one I agree with because anecdotal local evidence – that is, what neighbours find time to say to each other in passing at this busy time of year – is that winter barley yields are up on last year and oilseed rape yields well up.

There are few things harder in arable farming than having to wait in good weather. Fortunately, there are other jobs to rush on with and that can be seen in the rapid conversion of stubble to ploughed and/or drilled fields as next year’s harvest goes into the ground.

Because of the speed at which today’s big machines work it is possible that a summary of how things stand in the harvest fields will be out of date three later. If the weather continues mainly good harvest could be well through in our area by this time next week. And in spite of the ‘Catastrophic …’ headline quoted, it seems that spring barley and wheat yields could be above average.

Prices and growing costs are another matter. Feeding barley for use in livestock rations is well below £100 a tonne, good news for livestock feeders, bad for barley growers.

This frequent ‘good news – bad news’ position in farming is why I have some sympathy with European Union farm commissioner Phil Hogan as he tries to keep a lid on farmers’ union rhetoric about a farming crisis.

Mr Hogan, a veteran Irish politician who came to the job to a warm welcome from British and Irish farmers as a minister who would see things from their point of view, said recently that there were challenges to farming and some member states had more problems than others, such as dairying and pig production.

But across the EU the price of milk, for example, was reasonable, he said, in the present situation of global over-supply, a ban on imports by Russia and reduced demand from China.

In short, farming tends to be cyclical and returns up and down so don’t panic, it’s not a crisis. Farmers’ unions beg to differ and now have second thoughts about Mr Hogan being a minister on their side.

I listened to a Radio 4 programme ‘The Reunion’ on Sunday morning. It brought together five people closely involved with the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 that saw about 10 million animals slaughtered on more than 2,300 farms and cost about £8 billion.

The abiding memory for them, and me, were the pyres of burning carcases and the smell, ‘a scene of medieval horror’ as one farmer described it, and the burial pit at Lockerbie ‘ a definition of hell on earth.’ It seems certain we’ll never see scenes like that again. It must be vaccination next time.