Harvest might be over in the south of England, but there are still thousands of acres of wheat, spring barley and beans to cut in the Borders and tens of thousands of acres in the north of Britain as a whole.
All parts of the country are running two to three weeks later than usual and, given the generally iffy weather September has given us so far, that means many growers in our area might not finish harvesting until near the end of this month. Or later in the worst-hit and wettest areas, confirming 2015 as the latest harvest we’ve had for years.
Prices are low, moisture contents usually high and quality variable and moderate, whether for potential malting barley and milling wheat or oilseed rape and beans. The only upside is that yields seem to be higher than average, much higher according to measured trial results from different areas. For wheat ‘good’ means 4-4.5 tonnes an acre compared to the running average of about 3.6 tonnes. Spring barley seems to be more variable from not much above 2 tonnes an acre to more than 3.5 tonnes.
The problem of quality in a year of poor weather has been countered by the main grain buyers reducing their standard for percentage of ‘skinning’ in barley, that is, where the husk is separating from the inner grain. Too high a percentage of skinned grain can cause problems with the germination, an essential part of the malting process. The adjustment was welcomed by growers, although in a poor-weather harvest even with lower standards set by maltsters there are still likely to be rejected crops with barley being sold for livestock feed at an even lower price.
Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour party leader, has been subjected to some serious criticism over a range of issues since his election. But for farmers and most rural organisations the main criticism, was Mr Corbyn’s appointment of Kerry McCarthy as shadow environment secretary.
Ms McCarthy, as most farmers now know, is a vegan who opposes hunting, badger culls and intensive methods of livestock production. That does not make her a bad person, but it does make farmers doubt how likely she is to fight their corner on almost anything. There is, of course, no reason why she should. Many another minister over the years has been appointed to oversee people they are perceived to have little sympathy with. Think Theresa May and the police force or Michael Gove and almost anyone.
There is also always the fear of civil servants that a minister might ‘go native’ and sympathise too much with, say, farmers hit by low prices for most products, poor weather and chaos in the EU. There seems no danger of either Liz Truss, the Government minister with responsibility for UK farming or Richard Lochhead, cabinet secretary for Scottish farming, being accused of either being too sympathetic or of going native. And as far as I know they aren’t vegans.