Growers living with a climate roller coaster across Midhurst and Petworth area

Planting oilseed rape at Bignor Farms.  PICTURE BY WILL TUPPER

Planting oilseed rape at Bignor Farms. PICTURE BY WILL TUPPER

0
Have your say

Up until May they had suffered 18 months of winter during which they were battered by wind, rain and snow and then came the sun.

It got hotter and hotter until the area baked under a heatwave through July and the hot weather has continued through August.

The Rogers family harvesting in 2008

The Rogers family harvesting in 2008

So from the farmers struggling with crops across the area and the grapes on the slopes beside the A272 at Tillington, to the asparagus and the army of allotment holders – how are they coping?

HOT WEATHER IS TOO LATE FOR THE ASPARAGUS

For the asparagus of J L M Henslow and Partners at Durleigh Marsh farm the good weather came too late.

Jan Henslow explained that the short asparagus picking season started in late April and usually ended on June 21.

Upperston Vineyards pictures in 2008

Upperston Vineyards pictures in 2008

The asparagus, a sand dune plant which doesn’t like sitting in wet conditions ensured endless rain last autumn and winter and the family were not expecting a high yield. “In the end our yield was worse than last year,” said Jan.

“Growers of some crops haven’t done too badly because apart from the cold winter the weather has been reasonably nice.

“But the asparagus yield depends entirely on the last summer because everything is coming from the energy in the roots last year.

“So even though we had no weather problems in picking, we did not get the yield because of last summer.

A tough time for veg -  Northchapel allotment holder Willie Poste.    surveys the ground in February this year

A tough time for veg - Northchapel allotment holder Willie Poste. surveys the ground in February this year

“Last year we were 25 per cent down and this year we were 20 per cent down on last year, making us about 36 per cent below average.

“Hopefully this summer’s weather will make next year better as we have had three weeks of heat wave and reasonably good weather since then.”

GRAPE GROWERS HOLDING THEIR BREATH

Andy Rogers and his family are still holding their breath for this year’s grape crop at Upperton Vineyards near Tillington.

“We had a very late start because of the weather,” he said, “and to be honest it looked a bit grim because we were about four weeks behind due to the cold and wet weather.

“The leaves didn’t appear on the wines until a month after they were supposed to and we were quite worried.

“Then we had the hot weather. We would expect to see flowers on the vines at the start of Wimbledon week.

“But as Andy Murray was knocking the ball over the net to win, I was walking round the vineyard shouting out that we finally had flowers.

“We had pulled back two weeks and were only two weeks behind at the start of July.

“Then it was so hot flowering took two weeks instead of three and now we are just one week behind, and from where we started that’s really good.”

But the family are still crossing their fingers that the weather is kind to them as they must harvest by the end of October.

“If we run into November, it would not be too good at all,” said Andy.

If all goes according to plan the family are looking at their biggest crop of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay grapes to date with 40 to 50 tons which would fill some 40,000 bottles.

FARMERS HAVE A LATE START FOR COMBINING

“The late start to spring has had a knock-on affect on harvest with the latest start to combining I can remember,” said Will Tupper, who is hard at work with the family business, Bignor Farms

“Usually we cut all of our oilseed rape in July and start cereals in August. We didn’t cut anything this year until the second week of August and still have most of our oilseed rape to cut.

“Crops have ripened very unevenly so we are moving from one crop to another and often leaving parts of fields. This causes lots of extra work, slow combine moves, cultivations and grain drying.

“Oilseed rape appears to have been the worst affected crop with extremely late ripening and disappointing yields caused by relentless pigeon grazing in the cold weather.

“However, wheat and barley yields have been quite pleasing considering the year with wheat in particular well above average. It appears the sunny spell in July helped with grain-fill hence yields.

“The late harvest has caused a backlog of work and we are as busy now as I can ever remember.

“We still have most of harvest to combine, cart back to the store and dry but we also have a huge amount of cultivation to do for next year’s crops and have already started planting oilseed rape for next harvest.

We will be pushing very hard for the next few weeks to get most of harvest finished and a good start to next year’s crops however, it will be difficult with lots of soil damage – from the wet weather – to repair and a harvest that is likely to push well into September.

NO RAIN FOR VEGETABLE GROWERS

Gardeners have faced problems from lack of rain and then relentless sun.

Willie Poste is chairman of Northchapel allotment holders. He said: “It’s been terrible really for everything on the allotment because this heatwave has dried everything up completely.

“Runner beans for instance have to be picked every day otherwise they are going old overnight and it’s the same for most the vegetables. They are all suffering.

“With the season being so late it has really taken its toll on gardeners. When we wanted rain, we didn’t have any just as everything started to grow.”