How to manage your risk of grain skinning

As I write this on  8th September, the previous weekend’s weather forecast indicated that combines should have been moving at pace all around the country. That’s certainly not the case here, and while some areas have seen better conditions than others, it’s certainly not been full speed ahead.

Delayed harvesting gives rise to several issues, for example timing of establishment for the following crops. Feedback from farmers this harvest is that the later drilled fields have been noticeably the poorer performers – but at the very least, late establishment significantly increases the risk of subsequent poorer yields. With current cereal prices where they are – and likely to remain, then any risk to yield must be mitigated against.

Regarding risk, one of the main concerns for me with a delayed harvest, especially when it’s due to inclement weather, is the increased risk of grain skinning. We know from previous seasons that after periods of broken weather there is a tendency for skinning levels to be higher.

Currently reports of grain skinning have generally been at manageable levels, around 0% to 6%. However some areas such as Moray have reported higher levels and there have been results as high as 20% coming in to store in Inverness.

There is research being done into grain skinning, and we know that it was likely unknowingly bred in to current varieties – but that means that it can be bred out again. SRUC and JHI are well down the road of identifying the genes responsible to help breeders eliminate it in their breeding programmes. However getting a new variety to the field will take eight to 10 years.

We also know that higher N fertiliser levels and aggressive handling will increase levels of grain skinning, so while there is very little that farmers can do, it is feasible to try and minimise the levels by making the combine drum & concave and drier settings as gentle as possible, and selecting fields where higher N fertiliser was applied for harvesting first when ready. Whilst it won’t eliminate the problem, it may keep the levels below the threshold.

Disappointingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, feedback from farmers suggests that Laureate seems to be no better than Concerto, so it looks like we will have to manage the issue for a few seasons to come and the more we know about it the better. However, while Laureate did no better than Concerto for grain skinning, there did seem to be some yield advantage from Laureate.

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Gavin Dick - Scotland

Gavin Dick - Scotland

AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Manager (Scotland). Previously a business specialist with SAC, working to broaden farmers’ business management skills.

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