Crops being combined© Tim Scrivener

The fifth consecutive fall in the oilseed rape area combined with poor yields have led to UK rapeseed production slumping by nearly one-third over the previous harvest.

That’s according to the latest NFU harvest survey, which also revealed wheat production being down by nearly 15%. 

See also: UK wheat harvest down 12%, barley off 10%, Defra estimates

Aimed at giving an early snapshot of the size of the 2016 UK harvest, it suggests oilseed rape production has fallen to 1.7m tonnes, which is 32.5% smaller than last year’s crop.

This is well below the five-year rapeseed average of 2.5m tonnes.

Farmers currently do not have the confidence to continue planting similar areas of oilseed rape, particularly in the eastern side of the country. Something is not right there Mike Hambly, NFU

The alarming figures prompted the NFU to warn next year’s harvest may see a further decline, as the planted area has shrunk further.

“Oilseed rape is an important crop for the sector that has good demand across a wide range of products including food, cosmetics, plastics, energy and animal feed,” said NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly.

“Farmers currently do not have the confidence to continue planting similar areas of oilseed rape, particularly in the eastern side of the country. Something is not right there,” he added.

Cereals

Cereals are also down, with wheat production at 14.2m tonnes (down 14.9% on last year) and barley at 6.6m tonnes.

This puts them in line with the five-year average, following last year’s bumper cereal harvest.

The decreases mirror the Defra forecasts published last week, estimating wheat being 12% down and barley slipping 10%, largely reflecting lower yields.

While cereals are back to average levels, the NFU points out that this is in stark comparison with the rise in global production in 2016.

“The results from the NFU harvest survey concern me, and should concern us all,” said Mr Hambly.

“Volatility in price and production is becoming increasingly difficult to manage as we strive to perform to the highest standards.”

Research needed

For arable farmers to remain competitive in the face of volatile weather and low prices, the NFU is calling for crop research to have a stronger focus on helping British farmers remain competitive in the global marketplace.

“There has been a long-term decline in the focus on crop research.

“We need to put resources back into research focusing on solving problems farmers deal with on a daily basis.”

He added it was frustrating to know that with research applied in the right way and access to the same innovations competitors use, many more acres could be yielding three times the national average now.

In the meantime, Mr Hambly feared for the coming 2016-17 season.

“With average yields not improving and input costs rising, farmers are planting crops now that may be sold at a loss for the fourth consecutive year,” he warned.