DEFRA harvest estimate shows higher yields

UK cereal production this harvest was higher than last year and the oilseed rape crop was another record one, despite spring drought concerns across much of England.

Provisional DEFRA figures put the 2011 cereal crop at 21.8m tonnes, 3.9% higher than 2010, with wheat production up just over 3% at 15.36m tonnes.

There was a slight improvement in average wheat yields to 7.8t/ha and an increase in the wheat area to 2m ha. The highest average wheat yield was in the south east at 8.2t/ha, while the lowest was in the northwest and Merseyside at 6.6t/ha.

The drought took its toll on the eastern region though, which was the only area to show a fall in yields, mainly on lighter soils.

But it was a particularly good year for oilseed rape growers, as the UK posted another record harvest. Total production was 25% higher than last year at 2.78m tonnes, due to an increased area (up 10%) and a 13% improvement in yields to an average of 3.9t/ha.

“Winter oilseed crops established well in autumn 2010 and disease control continues to improve,” a DEFRA spokesman said. “Prices have also proved attractive for growers with an increased demand for biodiesel. Early indications from autumn 2011 plantings indicate this upward trend in oilseed production is set to continue.”

There was a slightly more mixed picture for barley, where again yields in eastern regions suffered. The winter-sown crop was down 8% at 2.24m tonnes due to lower yields and a reduced area, but total spring barley production was up almost 21% to 3.4m tonnes, on the back of increased area and better yields.

The lowest barley yields were in the eastern region at 4.3t/ha, well below the average of 5.8t/ha. “Dry soils in these regions earlier in the year led to poor tillering and delayed nitrogen uptake, resulting in lower barley yields as barley has less ability to compensate for reduced tiller numbers later on in the season.”

Meanwhile, figures from European farmers’ union Copa-Cogeca suggest a similar pattern across other parts of Europe.

It put cereals production for the EU’s 27 member states at just over 280m tonnes, up 1.9% on last year, as higher yields more than compensated for a drop in total area.

Soft wheat production totalled 126.3m tonnes, up slightly on last year due to higher yields and area – soft wheat averaged 5.5t/ha. But barley production fell almost 3%, following a drop in both yields and planted area. Average barley yields across Europe were 4.2t/ha, down 0.7% on the previous year.