Seasonal Conditions and the effects on Yield and Harvesting

It’s Saturday morning,11th September, and it’s not hot; not even warm.

What a contrast to the start I made to my article two months ago!

Two big events have occurred since last I wrote, in the personal, local context. The terrible floods in Pakistan and Niger, for instance, are another matter and in another league.

Firstly, our first grandchild is now two weeks old as I write. She is beautiful (of course ) and very content ( at the moment ) and a miracle in every way. I had forgotten how long it is possible just to stare at a baby! I’m already starting to think about tree houses and other ideas I never had time to fulfill when our boys were young.

Secondly, harvest is over and all the grain in store. The contrast in August weather to July, and previous months, was extraordinary. We measured ( approximately and not totally scientifically ) only 7.9” of rainfall from 1st January to 31st July. That is very dry. This concurred with the general comments in the press that this period was the driest for 80 years, or possibly more. In August we measured 5.5”. I don’t think there was one day, except maybe on the 31st, when, even if the combines could theoretically work, grain was coming off the field at less than 18% moisture. It needs to be 15% or lower to store without further drying. Accordingly the storage capacity capable of drying grain, by blowing pre heated air through vented floors, was soon full and we just had to wait for the sun to do its job.

The Oil Seed Rape had been harvested in late July and the ground cultivated immediately. This left 200 acres of wheat. When, at last, the weather did allow work to continue, the high capacity of the modern combine harvester came into its own. On one day, just over 100 acres, totalling 400 tonnes, was completed, with work going well on into the night. I can remember in the mid 1970’s when we were pleased to complete 15acres / 35 tonnes in a day with one machine. A further day and a half saw our harvest completed for 2010.

The weather is still catchy and Rape drilling is on hold whilst the soil conditions are sticky. Ploughing and cultivating of the stubbles continues apace. A late harvest brings further pressures from a reduced window to get next years crop drilled in optimum conditions. It’s only two years ago since this happened last.

Half of our sown wheat crop was contracted for seed: to be sold as soon as it was harvested so that it could be prepared by one of the agricultural merchants we deal with and sold on to farmers for drilling later in September / early October for Harvest 2011.

During the growing season the seed crop is ‘ walked ‘ by trained Inspectors  to check for purity of variety and absence of weeds and self sown crops such as barley. Once harvested, it then is tested for germination % and any other issues which would reduce it’s potency or purity once drilled in the ground. We were concerned that the constant wetting and drying in August would precipitate premature germination whilst the grain was still in the ear. There was a hint of this in the grain once harvested, but as this was common to so much of the wheat contracted for seed across the country, our crop will still be required and therefore receive ( most if not all of ) the price premium agreed.

Our other concern was that the very dry weather during the growing period of the crops would significantly reduce yields. However, our heavier soil type, good soil structure and organic matter content allowed the plant roots to find moisture and yield, though down on average, was only slightly so. Management expertise is also a factor. You may have heard about Russia banning exports of wheat due to drought and fire in its main arable regions. This, and other global events, coupled with investor sentiment, has raised prices that will at least compensate for the drop in yield. The implications of this have not yet fully unfolded.

At the suggestion of one Messenger reader, I am proposing, over the next year in these articles, to diary the life of a wheat plant, chronicling the wonderful process that brings us 8 fold fruitfulness.

I rather think that the growing up of our grandchild is a more private matter and a story that is hers to tell in years to come!

A new baby and a completed harvest, with seed just about to be drilled for next year’s crop. These are the rhythms of life. . . . miracles we must never take for granted. Disasters affecting life and health across the globe pull all this into perspective and remind me how blessed and fortunate we are. I am truly thankful.

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