The first official DEFRA estimates of the 2008 cereal harvest show that the UK produced a bumper wheat harvest of 17.5m tonnes, an increase of 32% on 2007.

The increase was largely due to a record average yield of 8.4t/ha, combined with a 13% increase in the area sown last autumn to 2.1m ha.

Final DEFRA figures will be available by the end of 2008 when more survey returns are available.

The results were similar to the NFU’s revised harvest estimate, released on Wednesday (22 October), which put UK wheat production at 17.558m tonnes, up 32.6% on last year’s rain-affected harvest. This was also put down to 17% higher yields and a 13% increase in the planted area.

Spring barley production was estimated at 3.481m tonnes, up 27% on last year due to a 7.4% yield increase and 18.3% higher plantings. Winter barley yields were up 10.5%, taking total UK production to 2.841m tonnes.

Oilseed rape production was estimated to be 11.1% down on 2007 at 1.875m tonnes, largely due to difficult establishment last autumn. Average yields were similar to 2007 at 3.2t/ha.

Further provisional HGCA data also released today (22 October) suggested that milling quality was better than last year and crops harvested before the worst of the rain will have broadly met bread flour milling specification.

“We are looking to millers to make use of as much of the UK crop as possible in a year when quality has been difficult to achieve across the EU,” NFU combinable crops board chairman, Ian Backhouse said.

“In the coming months we will view data on any change on planted area for the 2009 harvest with great interest. We believe farmers’ decisions are more likely to reflect the return to difficult economic conditions of 2005 with increasing energy costs and particularly the rising price of fertiliser.”