Region’s wheat crops ‘hit worse’ by effects of drought

A WHEAT farmer on the Suffolk coast said his harvest was even worse than he feared as a result of this year’s drought conditions, with yields down by 40%.

Wheat growers along the East Anglian coast and on lighter soils further inland appear to have borne the brunt of the effects of this year’s long, dry spell as a national survey found wide variations across the UK.

A member survey of cereal and oilseed rape harvests by the National Farmers’ Union found that the 2011 cereal and oilseed harvest was not bad as first feared despite this year’s extremely dry weather. But it also found wheat yields across many parts of the UK were below average, although oilseed rape production increased to record levels.

Farmers in some areas of Suffolk blamed very localised weather conditions for poorer yields, combined with lighter soil types unable to retain what little moisture there was. However, high cereal prices have helped cushion the blow to some extent. Overall UK wheat production for this year is estimated at around 14.67 million tonnes, down on the five-year average by 1.5%, with plantings up 3.9%. Oilseed rape production is estimated at 2.618 million tonnes, up 29%, with plantings up 12.85%.

John Collen, who farms at Gisleham, near Lowestoft, admitted there were “huge variations” in harvests.

“From the A11 east, we came into the ‘worst ever’ category,” he said. “We thought we might be 20/25% and at the absolute worst 30% down but we are in fact 40% down. We have in fact had the worst harvest we have ever had.”

NFU Ipswich branch vice chairman Alan Mayhew, a tenant farmer on the Helmingham estate, said they were about 20/25% down on yields.

Most Read

“We have just had the worst harvest in 23 years,” he said.

His oilseed rape had been hit by a wet drilling season, followed by a verticillium wilt disease outbreak.

During the spring, the farm had about 7mm of rain in three months and had been worse hit than surrounding areas because the land was stuck between two river valleys, and the rain generally followed these, he said.

“A lot of friends I have spoken to have had the worst yields in years and years,” he said.

Stephen Rash, who farms at Wortham, near Diss, said his business had been badly hit.

“It was a shocking year to be honest,” he said.

“It’s the worst year of harvest for us for an awful long while, probably 30 years. All our crops were very badly affected by drought.”

His only bright spot had been an above average oilseed rape harvest, he said.