23 AUGUST 1890, Page 10


rr HE season now drawing to an end has been one of remarkable vicissitudes, alternately raising farmers' hopes to a high pitch and depressing them with fears of disaster. A bad beginning was made when wet weather first and early frosts later on hindered the important work of wheat-sowing in the autumn. A great portion of the crop was sown late, and some land intended for wheat had to be left for spring corn. But the early visitations of frost proved nothing more than "cold snaps," and the winter was an unusually mild and dry one ; so that the wheats, which had been slow in germinating to begin with, afterwards made rapid headway, and were seen to be very thick on the ground and full of vigour at the commence- ment of spring. Similar experiences affected the pro- spects of the spring crops, March, which is the best month for the sowing of barley and oats, having been too rainy for the work. But April proved a dry month, and the crops were got in under favourable conditions. No frost of any consequence occurred to affect farm crops, and autumn and spring corn alike made such good progress in May, that at the end of the month they presented an appearance of excep- tionally high promise. Indeed, it was remarked at the time that the oldest farmers could not call to mind a season in which all the crops of the farm, taken together, had been equally promising, Beans and peas, as well as the white-straw crops, had flourished during the mild and sufficiently moist spring, while roots and potatoes had planted well, and clover and grasses had grown fairly. Unfortunately, June proved a very wet month from beginning to end in the southern half of England and in Ireland, and unseasonably cold all over the Kingdom. In the Midlands and in parts of the North, there had been a drought during May, which lasted until the last week of June, when a deluge of rain fell in all parts of England, beating down the heaviest of the wheat and barley crops. The wet weather continued until July 17th, rain falling nearly every day, and keeping the laid crops from getting upright again. Thus an immense amount of damage was done, especially in the Southern and Eastern Counties, in which the rainfall was heavier than in other parts of the Kingdom throughout the whole of the spring and early summer. In all districts, however, the unseasonably cold weather of the first summer month, which is the period of cereal fructification, gave rise to fears of an incomplete development of grain, which have been verified in the case of wheat. Barley was injured more by being laid than by any other cause, while beans and oats rejoiced in the rainy weather, and peas were not seriously hurt. But for potatoes the season proved too wet, and even the root crops suffered from lack of sunshine and heat.

So far we have not alluded to the great disaster of the season, the spoiling of the greater portion of the hay crop. Never was there a more unfavourable season for haymaking, for June was as wet for the early districts as the first half of July was for the late ones, and although farmers in many cases delayed cutting their grass and clover till the crops were badly deteriorated by over-maturity, all but a fortunate few were caught by the rain at one time or another. Even in point of bulk the early promise of the hay crop was not fulfilled, the weather having been too cold for luxuriant growth. Still, there would not have been much to complain of if good quality could have been secured. As it was, nearly all the crop was more or less injured, and a considerable proportion was spoilt for feeding purposes. The last fortnight of July and the first of August turned out fine generally ; for, although a good deal of rain fell in parts of the Kingdom, it was chiefly in the late districts where harvest had not begun. In the Southern and Eastern Counties, where harvest began early in the present month, no rain of any consequence fell until Tuesday last, and good progress was made with the cutting and stacking of the corn. Moreover, for fully four weeks a moderately high temperature and a fair quantity of sunshine had been experienced ; so that the condition of the crops all over the Kingdom had greatly improved, and it was concluded that, with fine weather for the rest of the harvest, the season would prove, on the whole, an advantageous one for farmers. Unfortunately a great quantity of rain fell during the first half of the present week, wetting the cut corn in the fields, and seriously delaying carting ; but as we write sunshine has returned, and the barometer is rising. Two comprehensive sets of crop estimates have been published during the past fortnight. The first, consisting of nearly three hundred reports from various parts of the Kingdom, appeared in the Agricu2tura1 Gazette. Of these estimates, 288 received in time for tabulation showed the following per-centages for the several crops :— Wheat, 17.3 over average, 30-1 under that standard, and the rest average ; barley, 37.4 over average, and only 9.5 below ; oats, 44 over average, against 7 under; beans, 50.3 over, and 7.6 under ; peas, 36-5 above the standard, and 14.5 below it ; hay, 27-3 over, and 41.9 under ; potatoes, 36.7 above the mark, and 25.5 below it ; turnips, 51.3 above, and 15 below ; and mangolds, 37.6 over average, and 20.2 under. Thus, for all the crops, except wheat and hay, there are more good than bad estimates ; but in the case of the potato crop, the remarks of the writers indicate a very serious attack of disease in most parts of the Kingdom, which will probably render the production of sound tubers a comparatively small one. In the second set of estimates, which appeared in the Times, the returns were all given in per-centages of an average produce, as represented by 100. When worked out for the whole Kingdom, they represent wheat as 3.1 per cent. under average, barley as 0.8 above, oats as 2.7 above, potatoes as 0.1 above, beans as 2.5 above, peas as 1.8 below, roots as 3.6 below, and hay as 18.9 below. We see from these two sets of returns that the great drawback of the season is the deficiency and bad quality of the hay crop, which is grown on about nine and a half million acres, or on about as much ground as is occupied by all the corn crops together. Next in importance on the unfavourable side of the outlook, is the prevalence of potato disease. In both respects, Ireland, we regret to say, is peculiarly unfortunate, hay and potatoes being much more important crops in that division of the Kingdom than they are in Great Britain. We notice, too, that reports from some of the most extensive hay and potato districts of the North of England and Scotland state that the hay was well secured, and that potatoes are promising,—scarcely any mention of disease being made. But in Ireland nearly all the hay has been injured, and potatoes are badly diseased in the poorest districts, where the tuber is the staple food of the people. The character of the weather for the next three or four weeks will make a great difference to the edible production of this important crop.

Although wheat occupies this year less than two and. a-half million acres in the United Kingdom, it is always a subject of paramount interest, partly because of its old prestige as a money-making crop, and partly because it is still pre-eminently the price-ruling grain. Some good judges are of opinion that the crop has been under- estimated this year. It is true that the ears in most districts are not well filled with grain ; but there is straw enough for an exceptionally great production, and it is a question whether too much discount has not been taken off the estimated yield. Probably sufficient allowance has not been made for the fact that there are scarcely any thin pieces of wheat this year to pull down the average, and we shall not be surprised if the official estimates, which will be published after the test of the thrashing-machine has been fully applied, prove that the yield is up to the normal standard of a small fraction under 29 bushels an acre. On the other hand, the Summary of the Agricultural Returns, published on Wednesday night, shows that the area of the crop in Great Britain is 63,018 acres less than it was last year ; while a small increase in oats does little more than cover a decrease in barley, and. the food supply is further reduced by a drop of nearly 50,000 acres in the area of the potato crop. But whether wheat turns out to be up to the mark or a little under it, the other grain crops and the root crops are so good that the year cannot well be an unsatisfactory one for farmers in this country, if the weather allows of the corn being secured in good condi- tion. The price of wheat has already advanced considerably since the spring. Last week the imperial average price was 36s. 6d. per quarter, as compared with 29s. 5d. for the last week of February, and with 30s. 9d. at this period of last year. There is every reason to believe that the range of values will be higher for the next twelve months than it has been in any of the last five years, as the world's pro- duction of wheat is certainly less than a year's consump- tion, and reserve stocks have been greatly reduced during the cereal year now about to end. In Europe, as a whole, the crop is a good. one ; so that the Continent, apart from the United Kingdom, will be about self-supporting. But we shall need to import about nineteen million quarters of wheat, and the surplus in America and India alike is a small one. Prices may fall for a time, as the markets become glutted with new wheat ; but the best judges expect to see moderate values prevail for the cereal year as a whole, though there is no fear of such high prices as would raise the price of bread materially. The prices of other grain usually follow those of wheat more or less closely, and they are all the more likely to do so this year on account of the expected shortness of the American maize and oat crops. If we turn to the less common crops of the farm, we find a much less satisfactory outlook. The hop crop, which has suffered a further loss of area since last year, is now certain to be a poor one, and the most important varieties of fruit are scarce, the apple and plum crops being about as deficient as they have been in any year that can be called to mind. Soft fruit turned out well, though a good deal injured by the wet weather ; and growers of straw- berries and raspberries especially reaped an abundant harvest. But this does not compensate for the failure of the apple crop, which is all the more serious because it extends to the United States and Canada.

There are yet many weeks to come before the whole of the harvest can be gathered in, and it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that the realisation of the estimates to which we have referred is entirely dependent upon the character of the weather, as they are based upon the assump- tion that the crops will be secured without any unusual amount of damage being done to them. It is peculiarly unfortunate that rain should have fallen during the present week, which would have been the busiest week of the harvest, if sunshine had prevailed, last Monday having been a common starting-day in the North of England and the South of Scotland. The condition and quality of grain nowadays are almost more important than quantity, and we hope that for the remainder of the harvest the weather will be dry and sunny, so that the hopes entertained of late by our long-tried farmers may not be disappointed.