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Harvest quality is down, but prices remain good

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 01, 2012

Battered wheat grain – quality and bushel-weights are reported to be very disappointing this year

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For eight days, the Westcountry's fleet of combine harvesters were parked in sheds or on farmyard hard-standings, unable to do their job.

Heavy rain storms and intermittent showers meant the region's grain farmers could not get on with the 2012 main harvest, which is now running a fortnight late by modern standards.

"In 33 years in the job, I've never known a harvest so late," said Duncan Lyon, manager of Devon Grain's large grain store at Cullompton. "Our members have so far only managed about a fifth of their wheat. Normally at the end of August it would almost all be done."

Quality and bushel-weights were both very disappointing, with bushel-weights roughly 10 per cent below the standard, and all of the wheat (almost all in the Westcountry destined for animal feed) needing to be put through the drier, an expensive process.

The 100 members of the Devon Grain co-operative, from Devon, Dorset and Somerset, benefit from the cheaper drying facilities at the depot compared with on-farm, but the diesel fuel used is still an expense to be factored into the farm accounts.

"At this stage farmers with standing crops realise that quality is not going to improve, so they are quite prepared to get on with harvesting when they can and use the driers, happy to combine at 20 per cent moisture levels," explained Mr Lyon. Across the harvest, so far, wheat moisture levels had averaged 17.9 per cent, he said. Any grain over 15 per cent needs the drier.

As well as the bulk of the wheat, spring-sown barley and some of the oat harvest was still to be garnered.

But, Mr Lyon added: "The sun is shining and there's a drying wind. We're just waiting for the throttles to open to get in the rest of the crops."

A dry week should see the harvest completed.

And, he insisted, the 2012 main grain harvest was not a disaster, at least from a farmer's perspective.

"Obviously yields and quality are down, but the price is good, which is what everyone is focusing on" he said.

The September wheat price is trading at a very high £193 a tonne, though some of the commercial mills will dock payments to farmers because of poor bushel-weights.

The reason for the high price is a shortage on the world markets. The USA suffered from a severe spring drought, causing near catastrophic results in the maize and soya markets, South American crops also suffered from lack of water, there were poor harvests in Russia and the Black Sea area, and Australian harvest returns were only very mixed.

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