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Spring Seed Shortages

2017 was not a kind year for spring sowed crops and the climatic challenges have resulted in less spring seed being available for 2018. Many spring seed crops were late going in the ground due to a relatively wet February/March and, after a slow start, the hot and dry conditions took a heavy toll on many crops in June. Whilst the autumn sown crops had been forced to develop a decent root structure over a relatively dry establishment phase, the later drilled spring sown crops were more vulnerable and yields were reduced simply through lack of moisture - which in turn restricted the availability of nutrients.

The wet conditions came back at around peak harvest time - perhaps not too bad for the earlier maturing autumn crops but certainly in time to make progress very difficult with the slightly later maturing spring crops. This meant that crop losses have been severe in the hardest hit areas, with most areas suffering to some degree.

The general outcome is that there is less spring seed for 2018:

  • Low yielding spring seed crops
  • Crops lost due to late harvest
  • Many crops lost due to germination problems/ high moisture contents

Areas such as the west of Scotland, Northern Ireland, north-west England, south Wales and the south west of England were particularly affected. Autumn drilling in some of these areas has been very difficult and therefore spring seed requirements will be greater than normal.

I would, therefore, advise growers to think about their spring plans as early as possible and place an order to ensure that they have access to the varieties of choice.

Spring Cropping - Patterns & Trends

Is the area of spring cropping set to increase again in 2018? The AHDB Earlybird Survey suggests that the spring barley area will be up by about 3%. Clearly there have been significant increases recently and some areas such as the north west will inevitably see more spring drilling - as a result of the constantly wet conditions severely restricting autumn drilling opportunities. However, many areas have caught up with autumn sowing in what proved to be a more favourable spell of weather in October.

It is interesting to note that back in 1960, the amount of arable land in England and Wales that was down to crops established in the spring was a staggering 84%! Clearly, autumn cropping dominates now due to breeders being able to improve yield potential for autumn sown crops. It is difficult to imagine getting back to anything like the rotations of around fifty years ago, but the days of wall-to-wall drilling in September looks just as unlikely - especially where grass weeds are a constant burden.

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