Farmers who battled against the elements to ensure the English wheat crop survived the weather conditions of 2012/13 have seen high quality from their harvest but gathered a smaller crop despite the good harvesting conditions.
The NFU said that as a net importer of food, the UK must start to produce more itself and called on the Government to deliver on its promises to improve long-neglected agricultural research and knowledge exchange to help weather-proof British crops.
This is certainly something farmers in the North East would welcome as although the good summer has helped, the region is on course to produce yields well below the five-year average for the second year in succession.
NFU regional crops board chairman Brett Askew said: “A reverse in the decline of spend for agricultural R&D is crucial if we are to increase production and impact less on the environment in years to come, particularly if extreme weather events become more frequent.”
The NFU’s 2013 Harvest Survey, published yesterday, revealed that the overall national wheat yield is up 16% on 2012, at 7.8 tonnes per hectare, and slightly up on the five-year average of 7.7 tonnes per hectare. However, total production looks set to be much lower than the 13 million tonnes produced last year.
According to Mr Askew, the situation in the North East is more challenging, with most farmers experiencing lower yields than last year, thanks largely to the high percentage of spring crops that had to be planted.
As a result, he says, we should expect to see the UK importing above-normal volumes of wheat for the second year running.
“Local farmers worked really hard to get this year’s crop up and running, but the wheat area planted was much reduced – by 19% nationally,” he said.
“So while our harvest is better than anticipated earlier in the year, it comes as no surprise that overall our wheat production will be significantly down, given that drilling conditions were so difficult.
“The situation is being made more challenging still given lower world prices, which are currently £50 a tonne down, and the fact that unusually most farmers have not sold a proportion of their crop in advance given the level of uncertainty over what the harvest would deliver.
“This means that over the coming months, most arable farmers in our region will still be facing difficulties in managing their cashflow.
“The real bonus at the moment is that conditions are very much better for getting next year’s crop in the ground. I think we are all relieved to draw a line under this season.”