Winter wheat harvest begins at record-breaking date in Somerset

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In a summer in which cereal harvest records have already been toppled, winter wheat is now being combined at the earliest date in living memory on a farm in Somerset. Winter wheat harvest began on Higher Woodland Farm near Taunton this weekend (on 7 July), around two weeks earlier than the previously recalled earliest harvest. It will be processed by crimping.

Tom Lucas, who farms around 1,600 acres with his parents, John and Diane, and brothers, Dan, Adam and Toby, says the wheat came in at a moisture content of 35 per cent, and was processed through the farm’s existing machinery, a Korte 700. This machine had previously been used for rolling dry grain, but this year has been put to use for crimping, a process by which the early-harvested grain is rolled, has a preservative applied and is consolidated and sheeted in a clamp in a similar way to silage.

Mr Lucas says: “We haven’t tried crimping before but it is allowing us to start harvest early and spread our harvest window.”

This is important on a farm which grows 400 acres of winter wheat and 180 acres of winter barley as well as winter beans, maize, grass and hybrid rye.

“The crop is a bit greener and we have set up the sieves slightly differently, but the basics are the same as harvesting dry grain,” he says. “Dad drives the combine a bit more steadily and it’s doing a lovely job – it’s producing a really nice sample.”

Asked why the family is crimping corn for the first time this year, he says that although the extra harvest window is the main attraction, the greater feed value of the crimped as opposed to the dry cereals will be an important bonus. The crimp will be used for feeding his beef cattle and his high-yielding dairy herd.

“We have heard about the higher feed value of crimp and we shall see how it performs this winter,” he says.

Kelvin Cave, from the feed preservation specialist company of the same name explains: “Because Tom isn’t waiting for the moisture of his wheat to reach the usual 15 per cent, yield reductions from disease, shrivelling and the loss of grain are minimal.

“This is proving to be particularly beneficial this year, when many farmers leaving their crops to reach full maturity are facing very poor yields because of the drought conditions.

“More of the feed value is also preserved in the earlier-harvested crimp and the grain is processed in a way which is safer for the animal,” he adds. “This means that, compared with dry grain, higher quantities of crimp can be fed to ruminants without the risk of acidosis. This leads to better livestock performance in both beef and dairy herds, and even in sheep.”

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