LOWER PLANTINGS last autumn meant UK wheat production this harvest was significantly down on 2004, according to National Farmers Union harvest estimates.

Despite yields being up 3%, UK production is expected to be 3.5% down on last year at 14.9 million tonnes.

The biggest yield increase was seen in East Anglia and the East Midlands, both of which suffered from poor harvests in 2004, said the NFU’s Arthur Hill.

But compared to the large crop in 2004, total production this harvest was significantly down in the West Midlands and to a lesser extent, southern England, as yields returned to more normal levels, he said.

In contrast, UK winter oilseed rape production increased 7% to 1.6mt, largely due to increased area.

Figures also suggest the decline in winter and spring barley continues, with production falling 10% and 4% to 2.4mt and 3mt respectively.

He believes the drop in wheat area in particular reflects the difficult economic conditions caused by increasing energy and fertiliser costs. “Unless the economic outlook improves, we may see further reductions in planting for 2006.”

EU production is also down about 10% on last year’s record output, largely due to below average yields, noted the NFU’s Paul Temple. Spain was worst hit, where drought reportedly halved cereal production.

“In reaction to the current difficult conditions costs will continue to be stripped out and growers will continue to explore alternative routes to market, such as bioethanol,” he said.