Review of the Year: Harvest ups and downs

The last 12 months have seen the coldest spring for more than half a century, followed by the third warmest July since 1910, giving arable farmers cause for concern.

This time last year many winter drilled crops still weren’t in the ground. Swathes of over-wintered bare land prompted a surge in spring cropping that skewed rotations and left growers on many farms with a marketing challenge at harvest.

Cooler than average weather continued into the second half of May – prompting fears of a dismal harvest. But a surprise July heatwave – described by the Met Office as more notable for its duration than its intensity – meant prospects improved, albeit slightly.

By October, the provisional wheat harvest for the UK stood at 12.1m tonnes, a decrease of 8.7% on 2012. The fall was largely attributed to an 18% fall in the planted area last year to 1.6m hectares. The oilseed rape harvest fell 16% to 2.1m tonnes, again on lower yields and area.

As farmers strived to make amends for the wet autumn, the area of spring barley soared 46% to 902,000ha in 2013. Despite a fall in the spring barley area, total barley production for 2013 increased by 29% to 7.1m tonnes.

Gradually, though, things are returning to normal on the back of better conditions so far this season. Latest figures produced by the HGCA suggest that the total UK wheat area, including spring wheat, will increase by 22% to 1.98m hectares for harvest 2014.

Winter barley is set to increase 55% to 484,000ha compared with 2013 – the highest UK winter barley area seen in a decade. And the area of oilseed rape is expected to be the second highest ever behind 2012, at 740,000ha.

Areas of spring barley, pulses and fallow land are expected to fall nearer to pre-2012 levels. The spring barley area is forecast to drop 40% to 534,000ha and – although still relatively large – the oat area looks set to decrease by 26% to 130,000ha.

For more on this topic

See our harvest highlights video series

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