Wheat harvest under way on Nicolas Buxton's farm in Hertfordshire

Wheat yields rose by 6% in 2015 taking total production to over 16.6m tonnes, despite a fall in the area planted, according to the NFU’s annual harvest survey.

The union estimates there has been a rise year-on-year in yields from an average of 8.6t/ha to 9.1t/ha.

Total wheat production is estimated at 16.68m tonnes for 2015, beating last year’s figure of 16.61m tonnes.

See also: Read all Farmers Weekly’s stories from the 2015 harvest

This is the third biggest crop on record, bettered only in 2008 when 17.23m tonnes of wheat was produced and in 2000 when 16.70m tonnes of wheat was harvested, said the union.

Grain analysis results suggest quality is also generally good, although growers in certain areas did suffer deterioration in quality when harvesting was delayed by the wet weather in August.

Mike Hambly, NFU combinable crops board chairman, said that the record yields appeared to paint an optimistic picture for arable farming, but there were some caveats.

“It is great news to see the nation has had such a successful harvest for wheat. However, in a global context we have seen a sequence of good harvests and grain stocks are currently comfortable,” he said.

“We’ve already seen prices taking a 30% tumble over the past two years, similar to our friends in the dairy sector, and costs of production staying put.

“Many growers are facing the prospect that grain prices will fail to cover the cost of production. For some this will be the second year they have endured such a situation and with forward prices for next harvest also below cost of production, some could see no profit from those crops for three consecutive seasons.”

Mr Hambly said there were steps the government could take to improve the competitive position of the arable sector.

For example, The Department of Transport could look again at its cap on the use of crops going into biofuels to bring it back into line with EU targets.

Defra should also support the industry’s calls for access to crucial plant protection products to be continued, and for a review of EU fertiliser tariffs, which the union thinks are driving up production costs.

Estimates for the other crops are as follows:

  • Estimated winter barley yield is 7.5t/ha, compared with 7.2t/ha in 2014 (4% increase year on year) and the 10-year average of 6.5t/ha
  • Estimated spring barley yield is 5.9 t/ha, which is very similar to last year. The 10-year average is 5.4t/ha
  • Estimated oilseed rape yield is 3.8 t/ha; this compares with 3.6 t/ha in 2014. The 10-year average is 3.4t/ha.