Wheat harvest set for 13-year low

27 June 2001

Wheat harvest set for 13-year low

By Alistair Driver

WHEAT yields this harvest could be 25% down on last year as the battering the country took from torrential autumn and winter rain takes its toll.

The Home Grown Cereals Authority predicts a British wheat yield of 13 million tonnes, the lowest levels since 1988.

With normal weather the figure would have been nearer 17m tonnes, it says.

One of the wettest autumns on record severely disrupted drilling with 400,000 hectares designated for wheat going unsown.

The effect of this 18% shortfall on yields was compounded by continued wet weather throughout the winter.

Winter barley was also affected, although the deficit was largely made up by much higher than normal spring barley plantings in fields not drilled in the winter.

Senior economist Gerald Mason said the HGCA was forecasting that total arable yields would be about 5% down last year.

He said arable farm incomes are still likely to be higher last year, partly because of the effect on prices caused by the shortfall in supply.

National Farmers Union cereals committee chairman Richard Butler said much now depends on wheat quality.

“The tonnage will be down but wheat quality is the key to high prices. The key factor is going to be the weather around harvest time, particularly the second half of August,” he said.

“The industry cannot afford an over-supply of poor quality grain.”

He said the south east of England was the hardest hit, although farmers right across the country have been affected.

Some farmers in the south east have more than 50% of their land in set aside, which will barely cover their costs, he said.

The NFU also hit out at stories in the press that the price of bread was going up because of wheat price increases.

“The actual cost of wheat in a loaf of bread is as little as 6p, a mere 10% of the total cost of an average loaf,” said Simon Fisher, NFU East Midlands regional adviser.

He said farmgate prices, at 80/t, are at their lowest level for five years and cereal producers saw incomes plummet by 60% last year.


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