Borders farmers’ ‘worst wheat yields for 30 years’

Combine harvester at work near Maxton last month
Combine harvester at work near Maxton last month
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Local crop yields are different to the national figures estimated by Scottish Government statisticians, say arable farmers in the region.

The government experts say nearly three million tonnes of cereals are expected this year, an increase of a quarter of a million tonnes on 2012, and they suggest the average cereal yield for the last 10 years will be seven per cent higher than in the previous decade.

Harvesting near Maxton last month

Harvesting near Maxton last month

Scotland’s Chief Statistician last week estimated spring barley will increase by 15 per cent to 1.7million tonnes, winter barley by six per cent to 294,000 tonnes and oats by around 80 per cent to 195,000 tonnes. Wheat production is expected to fall by six per cent, to 630,000 tonnes, and oilseed rape by two per cent, to 104,000 tonnes.

The area of land sown remained largely unchanged, though oats replaced wheat and oilseed rape in some areas.

NFU Scotland’s combinable crops committee member, Duns farmer Neil White, said: “My initial thoughts are that these figures do not represent the harvest in Berwickshire.

“The yields in this area are lower than those mentioned in the report.

“The areas of spring barley and rape sown in 2013 were up and the excess tonnage of these crops are causing problems for many who do not have contracts for movement and price.”

Another local farmer, who did not wish to be named, said: “Farmers were relieved to find the yields of most crops were not quite as bad as had been feared.

“But almost every farm had some patches of crop which did not grow this year. Looking at the stubble fields after harvest tells the picture – many patchy areas with no crop, just weeds.

“Average wheat yields of less than 7 tonnes/ha, a figure we have not seen for about 30 years, were common on even the best farms, farmed by the best farmers.

“Drying costs were reduced per tonne and hugely down overall because there weren’t many tonnes to dry.

“It was never going to be a good harvest for many farmers here and so it proved, but the crops now being sown are going into first-class seedbeds and those crops which have emerged are looking good. The newly-sown crop of oil seed rape has bigger plants now than we had by mid-May last year.”

NFU Scotland’s Combinable Crops Committee chairman, Andrew Moir said: “It is true that the 10-year yield average in Scotland is up, but within that, wheat is lagging behind, showing only a four per cent improvement decade-to-decade.

“Looking at the graphs on yield since 2004 presented by Scottish Government, all crops – other than spring oats - are showing a worrying downward trend in recent years following difficult growing years in 2011, 2012 and 2013.”

Final harvest estimates will be announced by Scotland’s chief statistician in December.