Dire prospects for this year’s harvest make it all the more important for the government to secure a fair deal on CAP reform, the NFU has warned.

Short-term confidence among arable farmers is at a new low, with a new poll launched at this year’s Cereals event in Lincolnshire confirming expectations that the 2013 harvest area will be even lower than last year.

The overall harvested area on many farms is on course to be almost 30% lower than in 2012, according to the NFU snapshot survey. It follows HGCA figures showing that the winter wheat planting area was 25% down last autumn.

Crops battered by “unprecedented extreme weather” underlined the importance of farmers access to crop protection technology, said the NFU – and for the government’s implementation of CAP not to disadvantage English farmers.

NFU combinable crops chairman Andrew Watts said: “A myriad of factors have hit arable farms this year, from the extreme weather through to news that there will be restrictions on neonicotinoids to come in the future.

“Our poll is a snapshot but it is extremely worrying that planted area remaining viable for 2013 harvest on those farms looks set to be 29% smaller than last year. If this plays out nationally, we will be below average production for the second year in a row.”

All the signs were that difficulties would continue after 2013, said Mr Watts. “We urge the UK government to support English farmers with its implementation of the CAP reform, which must not put us at a disadvantage compared to other EU farmers.”

In a separate NFU survey, some 45% of arable farmers interviewed said they were less confident about the prospects facing their farm business in the next 12 months compared to last year.

The saving grace in past years had been crop protection technology, said Mr Watts. It could help maintain yield potential and all-important grain quality by guarding against pests and ensure crops are more drought and flood resistant.

But campaigns by environmental groups and other lobbying organisations to force restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids and potential restrictions on triazoles meant it was hardly surprising to see that short-term confidence was so low.

“If the experts are to be believed and extreme weather is to become more frequent over the coming years, we must look at ways of supporting the industry. Crop protection technology must be embraced to help safeguard our harvests in years to come.”

The wheat crop poll took place in May. It involved 76 members of NFU crops boards across England and Wales, covering some 16,000ha of land. The farmer confidence poll involved 564 farmer and grower members and 124 arable farmers in April and May.

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