Farmers rely on spring cropping

A tractor ploughing a Suffolk field.

A tractor ploughing a Suffolk field. - Credit:

Arable farmers in England and Wales are relying more heavily on spring cropping for harvest 2015, a survey has found.

The AHDB/HGCA Winter Planting Survey shows by December 1, the area planted to wheat, winter barley, oats and oilseed rape totalled 2.776million ha, 5% less than the total area of these crops harvested in 2014.

As planting conditions were relatively favourable last autumn, this change is likely to have been driven by economic and agronomic factors, the levypayers’ organisation believes.

This is in contrast to plantings for harvest 2013, where poor autumn conditions led to more spring cropping.

AHDB/HGCA senior analyst Helen Plant said potential factors included increased interest in cultural controls for weeds and diseases, particularly black-grass, as well as changes to the economics for the whole rotation.

“The higher yields of winter crops are worth comparatively less at lower prices, increasing the incentive to plant spring crops,” she said.

“The introduction of the three-crop rule as part of the latest changes to the Common Agricultural Policy may also have had an impact.”

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Wheat was planted on an estimated 1.69m ha, a drop of 7% compared with the area of wheat harvested in 2014. This does not take into account any late winter or spring plantings.

Late winter and spring plantings are gaining attention due to their potential contribution in controlling black-grass infestation and so are likely to become more important to the total wheat area, says HGCA.

The largest declines are seen in the East, South East and East Midlands, which may reflect the strength of the challenges posed by black-grass in these regions. Winter barley plantings remain high in England and Wales. An estimated 0.371m ha was planted, broadly in line with the area harvested in 2014 and the largest since 2003. The total UK barley area will depend on plantings this spring.

“The winter barley area remains historically strong in England and Wales, with plantings again seeming to benefit from the availability of newer high-yielding varieties,” said Ms Plant. “We may also be seeing a high winter barley area due to farmers looking to extend their rotations, widen their harvest window and spread workloads. Again, many growers this year may be using winter barley to support the establishment of following oilseed rape crops.”

The oilseed rape area is estimated at 0.633m ha, a small (1%) drop from the total area of oilseed rape (both winter and spring varieties) harvested in 2014.

While overall the oilseed rape area remains relatively strong and is only slightly lower year-on-year, there seems to be a regional split. Declines to the oilseed rape area in the south and east of England are offset by increases in the north of England.

This may be linked to the large winter barley areas planted in the north of England for harvest 2014, an ideal preceding crop for oilseed rape.

The oat area shows a 23% decline from the total oat area harvested in 2014. With the English and Welsh oat area estimated at 85,000ha, this places higher emphasis on spring oat plantings this year.

The fall in the area planted to oats was widely anticipated following large crops in both 2013 and 2014, with a subsequent decline in prices for crops not grown on contract.

The survey is based on 2,152 responses from a representative sample of farm businesses. The areas reported by these businesses equates to 9% of the estimated area of wheat, winter barley, oat and oilseed rape planted in England and Wales as at December 1.

AHDB/HGCA will carry out a full planting and variety survey this spring on total areas for harvest 2015, with results released in the summer.