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East Anglia Future 50

East Anglian farmers sceptical over fears of bread price rise

PUBLISHED: 17:08 12 July 2018 | UPDATED: 12:52 13 July 2018

A barley field at Andrew Fairs' farm at Great Tey during the heatwave. Purple echium, top left, is coping well but a crop fire is burning behind, while a drought stressed field of beans has blackened and died, back centre, while a barley field, to the right, has been harvested.  Picture: ANDREW FAIRS

A barley field at Andrew Fairs' farm at Great Tey during the heatwave. Purple echium, top left, is coping well but a crop fire is burning behind, while a drought stressed field of beans has blackened and died, back centre, while a barley field, to the right, has been harvested. Picture: ANDREW FAIRS

Andrew Fairs

East Anglian farmers are sceptical of fears that bread prices could rise as a result of an expected poor wheat harvest in parts of the region.

A wheat field at Andrew Fairs' farm at Great Tey which is hardening off, ready to be harvested. He fears yields will be hit by the heatwave Picture: ANDREW FAIRSA wheat field at Andrew Fairs' farm at Great Tey which is hardening off, ready to be harvested. He fears yields will be hit by the heatwave Picture: ANDREW FAIRS

Wheat growers are facing a worrying time as harvest approaches because some plants have not received enough water to grow well, hitting yields and possibly quality. Products such as bread could be hit as a result of the current heatwave, a Writtle University College arable crop expert has warned.

Henry Matthews, a higher education lecturer in agriculture, said the persistent high temperatures and lack of rain was leading to an early harvest, pushing down yields and pulling up prices, which is likely to be passed onto the consumer.

However, while East Anglian farmers point out that what’s paid to the farmer is just a small fraction of the overall price of a loaf, and this rarely fell, even if wheat prices plummet. Commodities such as wheat were subject to worldwide fluctuations in price, and while lower yields in East Anglia might have a partial effect on local prices it was unlikely to be key, they said.

Andrew Blenkiron, director at the Euston Estate near Thetford, estimated his wheat crop would be about 50% down on average with patches of crop dying off early in the field because of variations in soil types.

A wheat field at Andrew Fairs' farm at Great Tey which is hardening off, ready to be harvested.  Picture: ANDREW FAIRSA wheat field at Andrew Fairs' farm at Great Tey which is hardening off, ready to be harvested. Picture: ANDREW FAIRS

“There’s potential for the farmers to get up to 10% additional price because of this, but the last thing I really think is the supply chains should be making opportunist profits out of this,” he said. “All they’ll do is drag in imports from around the world.”

Andrew Fairs, this year’s deputy show director, who farms around Great Tey, Colchester, said his crops were facing a tough time across the board, with his peas also hit by aphid infestations. He is about 10 days off combining his wheat.

His biggest fear is that a dry dust-fuelled crop fire might break out as a result of the dry conditions. On Sunday, July 7, his combine harvester caught light and had to be dowsed. While wheat prices have risen from about £130 a tonne last year to about £150 to £155 now, they had gone down in recent days, he said. “What people forget is it’s a world market,” he said. Ironically, farmers are now hoping that sustained rainfall will hold off until they get the wheat crop in.

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