The English wheat harvest is likely to be just 11.74m tonnes this year, according to estimates from Defra, a fall of almost 10% compared to last year.
Defra’s June survey, published last week, revealed that total wheat plantings for 2013 in England were down 19%, from 1.86 million hectares to 1.51m hectares, the smallest area since the early 1980s. Plantings were hampered by poor weather last autumn, a situation that means this year’s harvest is likely to be well below the 13m tonnes produced last year.
However, the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU’s) 2013 Harvest Survey said yields were up 16% from 6.7 to 7.8 tonnes per hectare.
According to the NFU combinable crops board chairman Andrew Watts, the fall in production would lead to above-normal volumes of wheat imports for the second year running. However, the high quality meant much more of what has been harvested would be of value to the food industry this year.
“Farmers worked really hard to get this year’s crop up and running, but with planting down by 19%, I’m not surprised overall wheat production is down,” he said. “Many arable farmers are still working under the shadow of 2012’s appalling weather and the knock-on impact this has had. For most, the problem is now in the office; working to balance the books, cover production costs and, looking ahead to next year, I’m hoping we can move on to a more positive outlook.”
The NFU said that, as a net importer of food, the UK must start to produce more itself and called on government to deliver on its promises to improve long-neglected agricultural research and knowledge exchange to help weather-proof British crops.
“A reverse in the decline of spend for agricultural R&D is crucial if we are to increase production and impact less on the environment in years to come, particularly if extreme weather events become more frequent,” said Watts. “Innovation and technology are vital in keeping crops healthy and resilient, yet this technology has been under a sustained and unwarranted attack recently, and the impacts could be grave for the industry.
“The last thing we want is for legislators to regulate the UK and EU out of arable production by undermining access to pesticides and products that will be vital to protect the crops of the future.”