Scotland’s cereal area fell to a 30-year low this harvest, according to latest official figures.

NFU Scotland says the results show arable farmers reacted to the introduction of the single farm payment by drilling fewer acres last autumn and again this spring.

The Scottish Executive’s June agricultural census showed combinable crop sowings dropped 6% to just over 457,000ha (1,129,000 acres), the lowest since 1973.

Wheat plantings were down 5.5%, winter barley 8% and spring barley 5.4%.

NFUS combinable crops chairman David Houghton said CAP reform had been the main driver behind the change.

“I believe we could be seeing a real change in Scotland’s cropping activity.

“Farmers in Scotland had a better idea (than those in England) of how the SFP would look, and knew they would be fully decoupled.

They reassessed the potential of land and stopped cropping less productive areas like field corners.

“This could well be a trend that gathers pace.

I expect to see the main effects to the cropped area next spring – we could see spring barley plantings down considerably.”

A surplus of malting barley in Europe meant traditional growers in Fife and central Scotland might put land into wheat instead, said Mr Houghton.

Gordon Stewart, Grainfarmers’ Scottish seed manager, agreed CAP reform was behind the smaller area, but added rising production costs had also forced farmers to rethink.

“There is a lot more home-saved seed in the ground this season.”

Good weather this autumn meant farmers would have taken the opportunity to increase winter plantings, he added.

“Spring barley will suffer.

There’s 5-10% more winter seed in the ground.”

The Scottish Executive’s next survey could well find cereals plantings had dropped further.

“Around Fife and Perth, there’s 100-120,000t of spring barley with no real market to go to.”

Recent closures of maltings at Carnoustie and Kirkcaldy had also led farmers to consider growing feed grains over malting barley, Mr Stewart added.

Recently-revised figures from DEFRA showed planted areas in England declined by nearly 7%, with wheat falling 6.2% and barley nearly 8%, but Jon Duffy, wheat director at Frontier, said year-on-year fluctuations in the planted area were a feature of the reformed CAP.

“We’ll have to get used to seeing swings in the area under the drill. Farmers will sow now on the potential returns they see from the market, and that alone.”
ian.ashbridge@rbi.co.uk