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Hard Brexit fears and low prices crush farmers' hopes for bumper wheat harvest

PUBLISHED: 16:21 15 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:21 15 August 2019

Cereal harvest at Butley  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Cereal harvest at Butley Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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East Anglian farmers hailing a bumper wheat harvest may have their celebrations cut short - if they are hit by a hard Brexit.

Harvesting the fields in Butley  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNHarvesting the fields in Butley Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

With many farmers finished or close to finishing combining, yields and quality are reportedly looking good, but prices have plummeted, falling from around £160 - £170/tonne a few months ago to around £130/t today.

With the possibility of around a 2m tonne surplus once the wheat harvest is in, farmers would have looked to markets in the European Union (EU) and in particular Ireland, Spain and Portugal to sell excess crop.

MORE - Beef farmers face crisis as demand falls to 'lowest since BSE'

But if by November 1, the UK is plunged into a 'no-deal' Brexit, their wheat crop could be hit by eye-watering 93 euro (£85) tariffs.

Harvesting the fields in Butley  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNHarvesting the fields in Butley Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"It looks like we'll have a large exportable surplus of wheat this year," said National Farmers' Union (NFU) deputy president Guy Smith.

Mr Smith, who farms at St Osyth, near Clacton, finished combining his wheat on August 8 and has completed harvest with the last of his beans by August 11. He had had a "good" harvest, he said.

"I'm conscious that I'm not alone - and that brings joy to my heart that the bounty is spread across the piece. - but there's a lot of wheat about and prices are under pressure."

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And in the event of a no-deal, the EU tariffs imposed could be disastrous for UK farmers, he suggested.

"Possibly you can find markets in north Africa or elsewhere, but you can't magic these things up," he said.

Farmers faced a mixture of factors, he said, with the plummeting pound good for UK farm exports, but Brexit uncertainty casting a pall.

"This is real and a number of people are of the view that that factor is virtually suppressing the market," he said.

The NFU is calling for an orderly Brexit, and mitigation measures to help farmers caught up in the uncertainty, such as an increase in the bioethanol inclusion rate to help open up more markets for home-grown wheat.

While the back of this year's wheat harvest is broken, harvest is ongoing, and other parts of the country, such as the area around the Wash, have been hit by weather delays.

Barley quality and yields are also looking good this year, with malting quality very good.

Andrew Blenkiron, director at the Euston Estate, near Thetford, finished his wheat harvest on August 8 and said yields looked like they would be well ahead of the farm's five year average, but he was less impressed with prices.

"Unlike the barley that was 'average' or even slightly below average on the lightest of land, wheat has yielded very well, with even the light land doing well," he said. "Bushel weights have been good at 76 - 80, as has the quality of our Skyfall and Solstice wheats, with proteins being over 12.5% and Hagbergs being over 300."

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