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Record harvest 'ruined' by heavy rain say Kent farmers

By Chris Price

Arable farmers have been left counting the cost of stormy weather which has left large amounts of their crops only good enough for animal feed.

Downpours at the end of July and the beginning of August have dashed hopes of a record harvest this year, following a sunny spring and warm June.

The damage to grain crops has been exacerbated by an early ripening due to the balmy weather earlier in the year.

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It has been a difficult year for arable farmers in Kent

It has been a difficult year for arable farmers in Kent

The result has been combine harvesters sitting dormant across the county while ripe wheat and barley is battered by storms.

Meanwhile some fruit growers have reported a 20% decline in yields after frosts in April caused damage.

George Jessel, who farms 400 acres of arable fields in Brabourne, near Canterbury, said: “We’re all standing outside waiting for the crops to dry out.

“It has been the most appallingly frustrating harvest.

High Sheriff of Kent George Jessel

High Sheriff of Kent and arable farmer George Jessel

“Earlier in the year we were facing a potential record harvest in the arable world, which has been ruined by the weather.

“My wheats are looking grey and rape is damp. It’s not written off but the rain will knock the quality from milling wheats. Top grade has been affected.”

Kevin Attwood, whose family have owned Down Court Farm in Doddington, near Faversham, for more than 35 years, said: “It’s been a strange old year.

“We had too much lovely weather early on and it was going to balance up.”

Grain farmer Kevin Attwood

Grain farmer Kevin Attwood

Mr Attwood, who farms 4,500 acres of combinable crops on the North Downs, said the UK faces a shortage of bread wheat after the stormy weather.

He said: “The critical bit was that it was ripe early and the rain came down in the last few days of July and the first fortnight of August.

"In the first four days of August we had 28 ml of rain and we have had the same amount since, which hasn’t helped. There will be less UK bread wheat this year, that is a certainty.

“The grain we are cutting is more likely to wind up in animal feed somewhere in the world. The premium has gone. It’s not the harvest we all hoped for but we always do have high hopes.”

The fruit world has been affected less badly but many remain cautious.

AC Goatham commercial director Carol Ford

AC Goatham commercial director Carol Ford

AC Goatham & Son, which has its headquarters at a giant packhouse in Hoo near Rochester, is preparing to harvest at the end of August through to October.

Commercial director Carol Ford said: “From the moment the blossom appears in the spring through the weeks as the fruit develops, it is monitored continuously, but like all farmers we are at the mercy of the weather until harvest is finished.

"The recent and much needed heavy rain brings with it the threat of hail, which could be devastating for a crop at this late stage.

“At the moment we are closely monitoring the fruit and when it reaches its peak, the race is on to harvest it and get it into cold stores.”

Phil Acock, managing director at Fourayes Farm in Bicknor, near Sittingbourne, said this year’s apple crop is about 20% down and early.

The company is the largest UK fruit processor and commercial jam manufacturer for bakeries, picking Bramley apples, strawberries and other crops in its 100 acres of orchards.

Mr Acock said: “The skin finish is good with the exception of some Bramley. Frost damage is evident, but patchy. The fruit size is good and the picture here is better than some of the large producers in Europe.”

Oli Pascall, farm manager of Salmans Farm in Penshurst, which grows raspberries and blackberries, said: “Generally yields have been good this year. We should be a little bit up on last year.”

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