Stuttering start to Scottish harvest

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By a Newsnet reporter

The 2012 summer may have reverted to form in the past 24 hours or so, but the previously dry interlude at last allowed Scotland’s beleaguered cereal farmers to make progress with harvest.

Winter Barley, usually the first of the grain crops to ripen for harvest from the last week of July onwards, this year is reported to be around ten days to a fortnight late in many parts of the country. 

By a Newsnet Scotland

The 2012 summer may have reverted to form in the past 24 hours or so, but the previously dry interlude at last allowed Scotland’s beleaguered cereal farmers to make progress with harvest.

Winter Barley, usually the first of the grain crops to ripen for harvest from the last week of July onwards, this year is reported to be around ten days to a fortnight late in many parts of the country. 

This late ripening, caused largely by lack of sunshine, is evident in other crops, including spring sown barley varieties which make up the bulk of Scotland’s cereal acreage.

Barley, for malting, is an important crop for Scotland, providing the main ingredient for the booming Scotch whisky industry which last year generated revenues of £4.23bn in exports alone – a figure which will be celebrated when the Scotch Whisky Association hosts a Festival of Politics meeting in the Scottish Parliament today (Friday 17th August).

The 2012 Scottish spring barley crop was mainly sown into good conditions back in March, but since then has struggled in the wet, dull conditions and potentially yields and quality will be compromised.

Unfortunately for Scotland’s malting barley growers, low yields and therefore shortage of supply, are unlikely to be compensated by increased demand from the malting and whisky sector.

France, where the barley harvest is earlier than Scotland, is reporting a national yield which is 15% above the five year average and quality is also reckoned to be excellent. Time will tell how much of this bumper, high quality French barley will find its way into scotch whisky, but for the moment it looks likely to set the benchmark for price and quality.

Wheat harvest in Scotland is still some weeks off. The national wheat crop has had a difficult growing season and, like barley, yields are predicted to be below average. However, with wheat prices driven by global market fluctuations and currently hovering around the £200 per ton level, there is still good profit potential for Scottish growers.

High wheat prices caused a consumer stir recently as the prospects for higher bread prices were highlighted in the media.  Farmers’ representatives were quick to put this in perspective, however, arguing that at £200 per ton, the cost of the wheat in a large loaf of bread is less than 16p, a fraction of the £1.20 supermarket price for a loaf.

A far more series consequence of the high wheat price, that the supermarkets are not so willing to shout about in the media, is the plight of Scottish livestock farmers.  Scotland’s dwindling band of pig producers, in particular, are finding the going increasingly difficult as feed grain prices rocket and the price they receive for their meat bumps along at below the cost of production.

There is a proverb in Scottish farming “up corn, down horn” – when the grain growers have it good, the livestock farmers suffer and vice versa.  Even with the 2012 harvest only stuttering to a start, the proverb looks certain to ring true over the coming months.