Growers catch up with planting but cold spring leaves its mark

As days have lengthened and the weather returned to a more ‘normal’ pattern over the last few weeks, many growers have been putting in extra hours in an effort to catch up on sowing and planting delays of up to eight weeks caused by March cold and snow and extended periods of heavy rain through the first half of April.

“We’ve been in unprecedented territory in terms of late planting,” said Tim Elcombe of Bedfordshire Growers and chairman of the British Onions crop association.

“Crops normally drilled and planted by mid-March have been going in six weeks late, so there is concern about their potential. There is also some concern regarding crops drilled and planted before the bad weather, as these will have sat in cold wet soils for up to two months. It’s still too early to say how they have fared.”

He added: “Since late April, when conditions improved, growers have really got moving. Some have switched from seed to sets but we are generally still around six to eight weeks late and need the weather to be very kind over the coming months to compensate. Yields will be compromised.”

Some carrot growers have reported they had been able to drill to schedule, but there were worries about the crop’s development, while wet soils have caused problems lifting the overwintered crop in some areas.

James Morell of Staples Brothers, who chairs the Brassica Growers Association’s R&D committee, said brassica planting had been around three weeks behind schedule because of the persistent rain during April.

“That was then compounded by the sudden change to hot weather at the end of the month which baked some wet soils hard, making cultivations challenging,” he said. “But we have been able to catch up and by mid-May were not too far behind where we’d expect to be. Most growers will end up planting what they had planned, though some spring sowings will have been lost.”

By early May, potato growers were around 10 days to two weeks behind with planting and conditions were still ‘very wet’ for many. Around 50% of the crop had been planted by the end of week 19 (May 13).

“Most areas have been equally badly affected,” said Mark Tomlinson, director of Whole Crop Marketing and a member of the NFU Potato Forum. “Cornwall has been difficult, though some early crop went in before the bad weather and will be ready by the end of June or early July, but there will then be a gap after that.

“Generally, growers haven’t been able to plant headlands as they have been too compacted so the overall area may be less than expected and yields will probably also be down.

“In most areas a late-planted crop will catch up to an extent as we are now seeing some warm conditions and the crop growing very quickly, though whether it will make up a fortnight is doubtful. At least the situation is the same across Europe so we have a chance of good prices for the crop when it’s ready to market.”

The Processors and Growers Research Organisation said around 90% of beans and 70% of peas were sown by the end of week 16 (April 22), though some vining pea crops that would normally have been drilled in early March were only just going in at the start of May. The problem was compounded for some pea growers when late-drilled crops going into warm moist soils started emerging faster than expected, before growers had the chance to make the usual pre-emergence herbicide application.