Farmers still coping with the legacy of 2012 washout
Despite a good main grain harvest, the United Kingdom is due to import higher-than-normal volumes of wheat for the second year running.
The reason was a sizeable drop in planting last winter, following a disastrous harvest in 2012. But a high-quality wheat crop means more of what has been harvested will be of value to the food industry, according to the National Farmers' Union (NFU).
An annual harvest survey by the NFU found wheat yields were up 16 per cent per hectare on last year and slightly above the five-year average, owing to good harvesting conditions. But with the total area of wheat planted down by almost a fifth on 2012, because of the unusually wet weather last autumn, production is likely to be much lower than the 13 million tonnes produced last year.
Wheat yields were hit by the wet conditions during the harvest in 2012, so this year's lower production means imports are likely to be higher than normal for the second year in succession.
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NFU combinable crops board chairman Andrew Watts said: "Farmers worked really hard to get this year's crop up and running, but with planting down 19% I'm not surprised wheat production was down. Many arable farmers are still working under the shadow of 2012's appalling weather and the knock-on impact this has had."
But, he said: "It is important to remember that we have seen some very good yields coming from what wheat we have harvested this year. If, as we are seeing, the quality is excellent, that will be some comfort for producers. I would hope it would mean British companies using a higher proportion of British wheat in their products, which would be good news for consumers, who are looking more and more for British produce."
Mr Watts called for a reverse in the decline in spending on agricultural research and development, needed to increase production and reduce the impact on the environment, particularly if extreme weather becomes more frequent.
The NFU 2013 harvest survey for England showed wheat yields were 7.8 tonnes per hectare, up 1% on the five-year average of 7.7 tonnes. But the area planted was down 17% on the average figure for the five-year period 2008-2012, from 1.81 million hectares to 1.51 million hectares this year.
The area of wheat planted was, in fact, 19% down on 2012's figure of 1.86 million hectares, but yields are up 16% on last year, when the figure was 6.7 tonnes per hectare.
The vast majority of wheat varieties grown in the Westcountry are for animal feed, rather than being of baker's quality.