Smith family’s Beal Farm has world record wheat yield

Hard to believe, but September has shot past and this is the first day of the second month of autumn.

A cool, damp September it was too with only the occasional flash of what I think of as perfect September days with straw crackling in the swathe, dust flying from combines, potatoes coming up dry and clean into the harvester, ploughs and grain drills moving steadily across stubble, the few remaining dedicated bramble-pickers working along a hedgerow.

Rainfall was about average, but it tended to come in torrential bursts. According to the Met Office that is likely to be the pattern of our summers to come, with total rainfall much the same over the year, but arriving in fewer, heavier, downpours. But at least the (very) long term forecast for the north of Britain suggests that we will always have enough water for public and farming use.

That is unlike much of the world where lack of water will become an increasing problem. Even here we should try to use water sensibly and economically. If a lawn sprinkler, for example, uses about 1,000 litres of water an hour, imagine how much a crop irrigation system uses. It makes sense not to use a sprinkler – grass can withstand hot, dry, weather or a drought – and to ensure that a crop irrigator does not spend some of its time spraying roads and hedges.

The end of the grain harvest must be in sight although it’s not the first time those with longer memories have seen harvest extend well into October. Harvesting of most bean crops will take even longer.

This year good yields for many growers have done a little to offset low prices. Not a lot, but a little, and more so in some cases than others, with reports of a world record wheat yield from the Smith family at Beal Farm, near Berwick. Their yield of Dickens wheat from a precisely mapped 11.259 hectare field – the area to three decimal places is vital in a record claim –was 191.40 tonnes, a yield of 16.519 tonnes per hectare when adjusted to 15% moisture content. Old style that’s almost 6.7 tonnes an acre.

Not a world record, but also impressive, is the 9.9 tonnes per hectare of Revelation organic wheat – grown without artificial fertilisers or chemical sprays – recorded by LC Smales and Son, also near Berwick. Most organic wheat yields are well below that figure.

Spring barley yields have generally been better than expected, but it wouldn’t be harvest without a spat between growers and maltsters. Last week it was reported that maltsters had relaxed contract requirements on the percentage of ‘skinned’ barley, that is where the husk is separating from the inner grain and can affect malting quality.

What wasn’t said in the statement from the maltsters was that deductions of up to £10 a tonne would still be made. The causes of disagreement might change, but not the attitudes.