The ‘Chancellor’ and I returned to these shores just over a fortnight ago after having spent a rather peaceful and relaxing time soaking up some French sunshine, hospitality and – in the case of the ‘Chancellor’ – a rather alarming amount of French wine.

These comments are not made in any vain or conceited way but merely to show you that once again, I have broken my own rule – and that is never ever assume or take anything for granted and the assumption that I made whilst tasting yet another Bordeaux Rouge was that with the weather being rather more than acceptable in the Charente Maritime, it was natural to assume, was it not, that you were experiencing something similar. How wrong I proved to be.

It was actually raining when we arrived back home and other than a couple of days when the sun actually decided to peep down at us from on high, it has precipitated down virtually ever since and, according to most folk around here, August has been pretty much of a washout. Grass fields are all a deep shade of green – the bonus of that being that all clamps are full to the gunnels but, and disappointingly so, is that the leaves are already beginning to turn and suggesting autumn is well and truly on the way. However, the biggest surprise of all is that sales of Factor 45 has been extremely poor this summer and that special offers will be seen in most supermarkets quite soon.

If we cast our memories back to the spring, you will no doubt recall that maize had a truly wonderful start with quite exceptional weather during April, May and most of June with everything being ahead of the ‘’knee high on the 4th. of July’’ adage. However, with July and August being much wetter than the ‘norm’ and also cooler, maize maturity has slowed down quite a bit – something that has been confirmed over the last couple of days when we inspected all our trial sites in order to try and give a bit of an indication of where your likely harvest date might be and before commenting on the individual sites, I would just like to offer you a bit of a reminder of where your harvesting ‘’goal posts’’ might be.

The ideal and most optimum time to harvest would be when whole plant dry matters are within 32 per cent and 35 per cent and we always try and gauge this by checking individual cobs i.e. when the cobs are quite yellow to orange, the grains are cheesy but not rock hard and when tasted, the grains have lost the sweet, sugary taste – indeed, they have taken on a rather dry ‘nutty’ taste.

Some varieties ‘dry down’ quicker than others, while there are some out there that rely on stover dry down rather than cob maturity in order to obtain the required figure. Some sites can consistently turn in the optimum dry matters – whatever the year, but there are others that are very weather dependant – the marginal sites – and where these sites might have achieved the optimum dry matters last year, the signs so far are that this years harvest could be later and that as a result, dry matters (and starch levels) might be a little lower.

Mole Valley Farmers Site, Bridgwater, Somerset
By far and away the earliest site that we have worked on over the years, but even here, harvesting is still some way off with only the very early varieties of Acclaim, Ambition and Yukon looking to give 32 per cent to 35 per cent by the end of the September. The later material looks like it might struggle to get close to acceptable figures this year.

Mole Valley Farmers Site, Kingston Maurwood, Dorchester
Once again, it is the very early material, as would be expected, that is quite a bit ahead of the pack with Acclaim and Yukon looking to be ready for harvest during the first week of October with the later material being at least three weeks behind that – and that’s three weeks later than last year.

Mole Valley Farmers Site, Launceston, N Cornwall
An intermediate site that can successfully grow a wideish range of material in a reasonable year, but so far, it is only Acclaim and Yukon that look to have the optimum dry matter potential for an early October harvest. They are even ahead of material that is at least two maturity classes (*) above them on the NIAB List.

Cornwall Farmers Site, Clawton, Holsworthy, Devon
A marginal site which was deliberately chosen in order to subject varieties to similar stress conditions which are so typical of marginal conditions on west country commercial farms. We also wanted to see if they really do justify their description of being ‘’very early on Less favourable Sites’’. Some varieties are already starting to fall behind the pacesetters and it would be fair to argue as to whether they will indeed ‘’make it’’. Ambition and a couple of as yet un-named varieties are clearly ahead of the pack, but still 3 – 4 weeks away and to give you a bit more of an insight into this site, I would pitch them at this stage at being 10 days ahead of Crescendo – an old favourite with a lot of you. There is some evidence of eyespot on this site, but I don’t believe that it is varietal as the diseased areas are too sporadic.

Cornwall Farmers Site, Tregony, near Truro
Because of the good spring, this site was drilled a fortnight earlier than last year yet, in all probability, will still end of being harvested a wee bit later with the earliest material being up to three weeks away. The Activate cobs are the most mature at this stage, followed closely by Ambition – both of which are about ten days ahead of the ‘’yardstick’’ Crescendo.

Pearce Seeds Sites, Dorset and Somerset
Their very early sites at Devizes and Yeovil are maturing quite quickly and should be ready for harvesting at the end of September or first few days of October. The counter to that however is their marginal site at Chard which, like all our marginal sites, is rather desperate for sunshine and warmth and it might be the end of October before the crop is ready.

They also report some eyespot on marginal and exposed sites but as yet, no comments as to whether it is varietal or not.

So there you have it – an extremely abbreviated report on two days of whistle stop tours which I hope you will find useful - the main conclusion being somewhat obvious in that this year is at least three weeks later than last year – perhaps even longer if the site was late drilled. There is no doubt at all that varieties within the very early category are looking at this stage to have been an extremely wise choice to grow and if the weather does not improve quite soon, anything later than the old maturity class 8/9 (*) could really struggle to make it on some sites – something that you really should bear in mind when making your buying decisions for next years planting.

We had the benefit of an Indian Summer last year, but at the time of writing (20/09), there is no sign whatsoever of a repeat.

Keep an eye on your cob maturity and book the contractor when you believe that the crop is ready – not when you see your neighbour harvesting – the only exception to this being that if your crop is severely diseased and is literally dying on its feet, get it off right away making sure that you’ve got an appropriate additive and that the clamp is rolled and consolidated as tight as possible.

(*) From 2012 onwards, NIAB will no longer be using ‘Maturity Classes’.