UK: Planting area up 3% for 2012 harvest, driven by strong prices and good planting conditions

Strong UK forward prices and good planting conditions in England have driven up total GB planted area by 3% for harvest 2012, although recent wet weather has cast doubts over final yields, according to AHDB Market Intelligence.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Home-Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) 2012 Planting Survey shows that total British (GB) area for wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape for this harvest is estimated at 3.810 million hectares, up 3% on 2011 and similar to levels seen in 2008. These area gains are likely to have come from reductions in other crops such as pulses.

AHDB HGCA Senior Analyst Jack Watts said: “Strong GB forward prices at planting time, combined with good planting conditions in England are most likely to be behind the increase in planted area. Although Scotland saw a wet autumn, the weather was much more favourable in March this year which enabled farmers to plant more spring barley in place of winter wheat.”

“However, weather for developing crops has been poor over recent weeks, with low sunshine levels and high rainfall during the critical grain filling period. As a result, uncertainty remains around yields.

“This is particularly true for oilseed rape, which has seen record GB planting levels which may not translate into record production.”

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According to this year’s AHDB HGCA Variety Survey which was carried out at the same time, 17% of the GB wheat area is estimated to be planted to nabim Group 1 varieties, 9% to Group 2, 21% to Group 3 and 52% to Group 4. Comparing 2012 to 2011, at the GB level, the area share amongst the four nabim Groups is relatively static with a decline in Group 2 and an increase in Group 3 this year. However, care must be taken when comparing to 2011 data as steps have been taken this year to improve methodology.

Regional variation in varieties is large - mainly as a result of increasing specialisation in the English regions.

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For barley, 67% of the GB area is estimated to be planted to malting type varieties. DK-Cabernet and Excalibur appear to be the most popular GB oilseed rape varieties, accounting for an estimated 21% and 12% of the GB area respectively.


The GB wheat area for harvest 2012 is estimated to be 2.002M hectares, up 2% on 2011 and the highest level since 2008 when 2.068M hectares were planted. With the exception of the North West and East Midlands, all English regions show an increase in wheat area.

In Scotland, the wheat area is estimated to be 6% lower than the record 115k hectares planted for harvest 2011 at 108k hectares. This is the lowest area since 2009 and is likely to be a result of the wet autumn conditions that made planting difficult.

Oilseed rape (OSR)

The GB OSR area for harvest 2012 is estimated to be 712k hectares, up 5% on 2011 and a new record. This is the second consecutive year the crop has posted a record area as strong global oilseed prices has made OSR increasingly competitive against other break crops as well as cereals.

However, the record area of 2012 may not translate into record production as crops have been subjected to poor weather conditions in recent weeks.

Against the GB trend, the Scottish OSR area is seen 6% lower at 36k hectares, again driven by the poor autumn planting conditions. However, this is the same area as grown for harvest 2010.

Total barley

The total GB barley area for harvest 2012 is estimated to be up 5% on 2011 at 986k hectares. This is historically low and remains beneath the 1M hectares mark that was common place pre-2005 and seen again in 2008 and 2009.

Winter barley

The GB winter barley area for harvest 2012 is estimated to be 5% higher on 2011 at 368k hectares. However the 2012 area is historically low – the second smallest area behind 2011.

The Scottish winter barley area is estimated to be 4% lower at 44k hectares, a record low, and likely to have been driven by the difficult planting conditions of autumn 2011.

In England, area increases are estimated in the North East, Eastern, South East and South West regions. Attractive malting premiums at planting, relatively strong feed barley prices against feed wheat, a desire for more home-produced feed / animal bedding and the attraction of a wider harvest window are all possible reasons behind the increase in winter barley area.

Spring barley

The GB spring barley area for harvest 2012 is estimated at 618k hectares. This represents the highest level since 2009 when 718k hectares of spring barley were grown in GB. The strong 2009 area was fuelled by wet conditions in the autumn of 2008 across GB, which diverted land to spring cropping.

Scotland is the main driver in the spring barley area increase. The Scottish spring barley area is estimated to be 301k hectares, up 16% on 2011 and a new record. The main driver is likely to have been the wet Scottish autumn in 2011, diverting land from winter to spring cropping.

Continuing optimism in distilling demand may also have been a contributory factor.

Based on these estimates, Scotland now accounts for 49% of the GB spring barley area, up from 44% in 2011.

In England, the spring barley area is estimated 4% lower at 303k hectares, but still above the 2010 level (266k hectares). With the exception of the North West and South West, all English regions show declines in spring barley areas. This decline was likely to have been driven by the good autumn conditions in 2011, which enabled farmers to plant winter crops at the expense of spring areas.


The GB oat area for harvest 2012 is estimated at 110k hectares, up 4% on 2011. However despite being higher than 2011, the area is historically low. The increase in 2012 may have been driven by an increase in the number of growing contracts available as well as strong prices fuelled by domestic supply concerns.

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