Bakers face the prospect of a smaller-than-usual wheat crop next year, with wet weather bringing a decline in winter plantings.
As of mid-November, farmers across the UK intended to plant nearly 10% less wheat for harvest 2020, according to the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board’s (AHDB’s) Early Bird Survey. This would make for the smallest area since the 2013 crop, which was another year impacted by an extremely wet autumn.
Undertaken by The Andersons Centre, with the help of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) and other agronomists, this year’s survey covered 615kha, which represents 13% of the UK area for the crops surveyed.
“This year we have seen a prolonged and delayed planting season for winter crops, which means that planting intentions remain as changeable as the weather forecast,” stated AHDB.
“After a rain-delayed planting season this autumn, farmers’ intentions were to continue planting wheat as and when the weather allows. Final decisions on switching to spring crops are yet to be determined; however, we can assume that spring wheat will heavily feature.”
With AHDB anticipating a 13% fall in UK winter wheat planting, even the expected 360% rise in spring wheat planting would result in the lowest wheat area since 2013.
“What we have seen is quite a big decline on the normal rate of planting – but it will vary a lot from place to place,” added Alex Waugh, director general of the National Association of British and Irish Millers.
“The last time this happened was in 2012, resulting in a much smaller 2013 crop for the same reason; they couldn’t plant because it was too wet. The best guide to what may happen is to see what happened then, and we had about a 20% reduction in normal crop size.”
Waugh said it would still be possible for farmers to plant winter wheat, but he felt it would be difficult to make up for the time already lost.
Concerns over the weather and crop prospects have already pushed wheat prices up by around £15 per tonne in the UK, he added.
AHDB has announced that, given the unpredictable impacts of the weather over the coming weeks, it was planning to rerun the survey in the new year.