Grain harvest forecasts point to a return to near-average yields after last year’s record lows, but changeable weather has caused regional variation, according to AHDB figures.
AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds suggested the wheat crop in Great Britain could hit 14.92m tonnes this year. Although the overall estimate is just 1% below the 2015-19 average, it is 55% higher than last year’s overall crop.
The 2020 crop was hit by heavy rain throughout autumn drilling and suffered again in an extended dry period the following spring.
Because of that exceptional year, AHDB predictions for wheat and barley refer to a five-year average between 2015 and 2019.
- Excellent – maximum yield recorded between 2015–19
- Good – average yield plus 2.5%
- Fair to average yields
- Poor to average yields less 2.5%
- Very poor – minimum yield
Condition scores have trended towards the upper end of ratings, with 68% of the GB winter wheat crop rated good to excellent, the AHDB said.
Overall spring wheat ratings were lower, with 50% in the upper two brackets. But there is strong regional variation, reflecting the differing growth stages of the crop when the dry or wet weather hit in April, May and June.
The entire spring crop in Scotland is rated as good or excellent, while the south-east of England has just 25% achieving those ratings.
The Midlands, in particular, appears to have fared well, with 84%-85% of wheat crops in the good to excellent range. This would put production for the region at 4.29m tonnes – 5% above the 2015-19 average, the AHDB suggested.
Further north in England, yields in the North East, North West and Yorkshire have been put at a combined 2.55m tonnes. While the planted area, at 301,500ha, is 21% up on last year, it is still 10.5% below the 2015-19 average.
However, near-average production in Yorkshire has dragged up the overall expected yield to 8% below the five-year figure.
The AHDB reported this could create a shortfall in the region, as Humber-based bioethanol plants Ensus and Vivergo restart to meet new E10 fuel requirements this autumn.
The Midlands could be the main beneficiary of the increased demand, as crops in southern and eastern regions look to have been hit harder by the weather, the AHDB said.
The South and East have recorded only poor to very poor ratings on the AHDB’s guide, with areas on lighter soils being the hardest hit by low rainfall in April.
In the eastern region, production is 8% below average at 3.66m tonnes.
About 1% of the GB winter wheat area is in very poor condition, according to the AHDB. In production terms, this represents about 17,420ha or 135,140t at risk of crop failure or severe yield loss, based on condition definitions.
About 68% of winter barley crops are in good to excellent condition, with the strongest crops in the West Midlands and north-east of England.
In contrast, Yorkshire and the Humber rated just 48% of winter barley at the highest condition levels, with 50% reported as fair. Weed, pest and disease pressure is generally low, although there are pockets of blackgrass and rhynchosporium, the AHDB said.
The majority of the spring crop was planted between March and April, with activity carrying on into May in Scotland, parts of the North West and the West Midlands.
Recent rainfall has boosted growth and almost three-quarters (74%) of spring barley crops are good to excellent. Crops in the eastern region are at 94% good to excellent, compared with just 55% of Scottish spring barley.
Disease pressure is low overall, although Yorkshire has seen the highest levels of rhynchosporium infection for many years.
Charlie Whitmarsh, crop production director for grain market specialist Frontier, urged caution in pinning too much certainty on estimates in a difficult year.
The expected overall wheat yield should be in the region of 14.8-15m tonnes, but the likely outcome of this year’s harvest remains unclear, Mr Whitmarsh said.
While the crop condition appears good generally, the extent of septoria in the crop could have a greater effect than in previous years.
Wet weather in May facilitated septoria infections up the plant through rain splash, which could yet hit yields and quality, he warned.
Infection levels appear to be higher than have been seen in the past four to five seasons.
This has been made worse in the first season without the now-banned fungicide chlorothalonil, Mr Whitmarsh added.
Blackgrass and other grassweeds have also caused sporadic regional difficulties in crops, again having a knock-on effect that is difficult to quantify, he said.
The up-and-down weather pattern could yet change things.
Crops are behind due to a cold period in late spring. Barley and wheat are about 10 days later than average, and there could yet be a spell of hot weather changing conditions again, Mr Whitmarsh suggested.
There is a lot riding on how barley and wheat crops will finish, and it remains to be seen how yields and specific weights will have been affected by a turbulent growing season, he concluded.