Weather driving harvest: Recent hot and dry days have really accelerated ripening and harvest.

A week ago there had been very little winter barley ready for harvesting, but the heat changed that.

Harvesting is now taking place in most counties and what looked like the earliest varieties have not necessarily been the first to be cut.

Harvest reports to date can be described as variable to good. Yield reports range from 3.1t/ac to 4.75t/ac at moistures well below 20%. So far, it seems yields are regional and ranging from an average of around 3.5t/ac to 4.0t in the better areas. Moistures have all been below 20% and down to 12% early this week.

In general, grain has dried down faster than straw, except where it was burned off, so crops are being cut on the green side to prevent moisture dropping below 15%. At this point last year, there were many sub-3t/ac crops. Straw volumes appear to be good.

Winter oat harvest is also commencing this week. Some wheat crops appear to have turned rapidly – possibly a consequence of take-all in dry soil.

Stubbles: While conditions remain dry for the time being, this will not last and stubbles should be cultivated to encourage weed and volunteer seed germination when the rain comes. There are many good reasons to cultivate stubbles, including residue incorporation, weed seed germination and pest reduction.

But you need to understand what you are targeting and have machines properly set up to achieve that. It is not just a matter driving across a field to change its colour slightly.

Early cultivation is best. This is when most of our problematic grass weeds prefer to germinate, so it is a good place to tackle and reduce seed numbers in the ground.

Once you see a cultivated stubble greening up, cultivate it again to kill the emerging plants and encourage more seeds to germinate. The earlier you can begin cultivating, the greater the potential impact on the weed seed bank.

Use chopped straw as an opportunity to cultivate early and get two benefits in one. If you can get one early flush and then sow a cover crop, you will effectively get two flushes.

Catch crops: It seems we are leaking an amount of nitrogen from tillage land. The suggestion is that this may be occurring between crop senescence and the next crop, so having something growing in that slot will reduce some of the loss. This might be a catch crop or even stubble regrowth.

The benefit is in getting it growing early. Nutrient uptake is proportionate to growth volume and they are your nutrients. Catch crops should always be considered to precede a spring-sown crop.

Fire risk: We are barely into the harvest and already there have been a number of fires reported around tillage activities. The risk of fire is much higher given the heat and the drying conditions. Cleaning down combines between fields and farms will have the added advantage of reducing the risk of fire, but it will not eliminate it.