Sunday, September 2, 2012
WHILE the summer rain may put a dampener on most people’s plans for a barbecue, a day at the beach or a camping holiday in Cornwall, the weather can provide a make-or-break situation for those who work in the agricultural industry.
For farmers the weather can make the year all worthwhile or it can push them towards ruin.
Last year, the 2011 harvest was particularly good for farmers. Fast forward to 2012, and the drought followed by the incessant rain earlier in the year has produced some crops that will just not make the grade for the food industry.
Britain’s wheat harvest is struggling, and that means the country will have to look towards imports.
But other countries too are struggling with the effects of the weather. In the case of the Russia, its wheat production is down 12 per cent because of hot, dry weather. And in America the corn harvest is estimated to drop by about 13 per cent on last year, meaning more wheat is needed to substitute for corn in livestock feed.
Bruce Chapman, 63, who owns the 1,200-acre Chapman’s Farm, at Ellington, is just one of the many farmers across Huntingdonshire who has been busy with the grain harvest.
He grows a wheat called ‘warrior’ which is used to make McVitie’s biscuits, Weetabix, bread and animal feed.
The weather has played havoc with the crop and, instead of looking bloated, the grains are shrivelled and dry.
Standing in Mr Chapman’s new grain store, we take a look at this year’s harvest.
“The yield is 25 per cent less than last year, he said. “We were crying out for rain in March, but since then it hasn’t stopped raining. It has really affected the grain as it hasn’t had the weather to ripen.
“The wheat heads should be heavy and pointing down, not up like they are – it just shows they are light.”
The lightness of the wheat means less crop to sell.
“We should be able to get four tonnes per acre but this year we are getting three,” Mr Chapman continued. “And it’s not good quality, which means instead of going to make Weetabix the grain goes to animal feed or is exported because is doesn’t reach the required high standard.”
His son Mark, who is the fourth generation farmer, takes five minutes, all he can spare from harvesting, to explain why some farmers are behind with the harvest – another knock-on effect of the rain showers that have been a theme of the British summer.
“I would have liked to start seeding for next year’s crop two days ago,” he said. “The wet weather means that, instead of covering 100 acres a day [in the combine harvester], we can now do only about 50-60 at the moment.
“ It’s going to take twice as long to get it all done because of the moisture in the crop.”
Mr Chapman senior added: “When we moved here 62 years ago, I was only a little boy. Back then we had five workers, and the combine harvesters were only three metres wide.
“Now it’s only my son Mark and two seasonal workers for the harvest. The combine harvesters are now nine metres wide, so we can do three times as much with them.”
Mark continued: “It shows how new machinery is helping us. Our harvester has GPS so, when it goes, it goes in a straight line. There is also a computer on board, which shows us our yield and which areas are better.
“This means that we can put more fertiliser in some parts that aren’t doing so well.”
Nothing goes to waste on the farm, all the straw is either sold to a power plant in Ely or is cut back into the ground as fertiliser for oil seed rape.
Once collected, the grain is tested for moisture, as grain merchants don’t accept the crop if it’s too wet, which is why there’s only a narrow window for harvesting. If the grain has too much moisture the farms have to dry the grain, which bites into the farmer’s profit.