NFU harvest survey reveals ‘mixed’ results

A combine harvester at work Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A combine harvester at work Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

Farmers’ leaders have called for measures to combat volatility following a mixed harvest.

The National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) annual harvest survey found wheat yields were down 6% on their five-year average at 7.7t/ha (compared to 8.2t/ha). It was the lowest yield since 2013 when it was 7.4t/ha.

Winter barley yields were 2% down at 6.8t/ha compared to a five-year average at 6.9t/ha.

Spring barley yields were 10% down at 5.2t/ha on a five year average of 5.8t/ha. The yields were the lowest since 2012 when they were 5.0t/ha.

But oilseed rape yields bucked the trend at 3.6t/ha – slightly above the five year average of 3.5t/ha.

The NFU said it had been a challenging year of extreme weather conditions and unpredictable prices, and the varied results demonstrated the need for measures to be put in place to better manage volatility.

NFU combinable crops board chairman Tom Bradshaw, who farms at Fordham, near Colchester, said: “The extreme weather events of this year have caused crop yields to become increasingly unpredictable.

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“Despite our favourable climate and soil conditions, farmers have experienced an incredible amount of variation in this year’s harvest.

“With Brexit, the volatility of world commodity markets and the weather adding further uncertainty, farmers will be turning to the government for ways to build financial resilience into their businesses as farm payments are phased out over the next few years.

“It is essential that a new domestic agriculture policy is supportive of resilience in the face of short-term localised shocks while driving long-term competitiveness.”

The British arable sector is an important contributor to the nation’s economy and food supply. Every year it provides five million tonnes of flour, barley and malt to make 985m pints of beer, grain for 11 million tonnes of farmed animal feed, and underpins the production of the equivalent of 11m loaves of bread every day.

Anecdotally, East Anglian farmers’ own experiences reflect the national picture, generally recording either average or below average yields and not getting close to some of the record yields of last year, when many enjoyed bumper harvests. Crops grown in clay soils tended to do better.