Rain adds to mixed year for cereals

BUMPER crops have combined with high costs and falling cereal prices to deliver a mixed year for East Anglian farmers. A wet summer and autumn helped to dampen high hopes for this year's crops, after a global shortage of cereals sent prices soaring at the end of last year following years of low prices.

BUMPER crops have combined with high costs and falling cereal prices to deliver a mixed year for East Anglian farmers.

A wet summer and autumn helped to dampen high hopes for this year's crops, after a global shortage of cereals sent prices soaring at the end of last year following years of low prices.

Suffolk farmers, who have now harvested most of their cereal crop, are reporting high yields, but high moisture levels in the crops and rising fuel prices have led to increased costs.

John Humphreys, arable production manager with Framlingham-based farmers' co-operative organisation AtlasFram Group, estimated that around 90% plus of this year's grain harvest was in in the area east of Cambridge, but only around 70 to 80% was in further west.

“The issue most farmers have got is we have really not had a dry day for more than a day at a time,” he said. “That's put pressure on them in several areas.”

The group anticipated that the cost of growing wheat next year would rise to about £120 a tonne, he said.

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“The farmer needs to look into some contracts that will give him that value,” he said.

Last year, the price of wheat peaked at around £180, but before that, around 18 months ago, was less than half that at around £70 a tonne. At the moment, it stands at around £105 upwards.

National Farmers' Union spokesman Brian Finnerty said it had been a mixed picture with a “stop-start” harvest which had presented a number of problems.

“It's obviously been a difficult harvest because of the wet conditions but in many cases the quality has held up quite well. British farmers are used to coping with the wet weather but it has been particularly challenging this year,” he said.

Farmer Robert Rush, who is a director at Camgrain, said although yields had been high, it had been an “incredibly expensive” harvest because high moisture levels in the crops meant they had to be artificially dried.

“In general terms in Suffolk, this will be remembered as one of the highest yielding years on record but almost certainly the most difficult harvest in 20 years in terms of wet weather. Yields of wheat and barley are amongst the highest we have ever known,” he said.

“I would say we are satisfied, very pleased with our yields, but obviously we are not going to be making as good a profit as we hoped because of the cost of the harvest.”

Stephen Rash, NFU National Council delegate for Suffolk, said it had been a “testing” year, and warned that with rising costs of fuel and fertilisers, crop prices would need to keep pace to provide farmers with a margin.

“Basically, we have not been able to harvest any dry wheat at all,” he said. “I think Suffolk farmers will by now have got the majority of it in and really now are looking at what sort of quality they have got.”

NFU Suffolk chairman John Collen said that on the east coast, where he farms, farmers had just about wrapped up this year's harvest, which was “above average” overall.

“Some of the first wheats have been exceptionally good, but some of the second wheats have been exceptionally bad,” he said. “The yields are up, the prices are down, so one has counteracted the other.”

He added: “The margins are certainly smaller than we may have hoped. Don't get me wrong, they have certainly been better than the last five years with the exception of the end of last year.”

Next year, he estimated that with rising costs, farmers would need to make about £130 a tonne on their wheat just to break even.