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2011 Wheat Harvest Down; Not as Bad as Feared

by 5m Editor
30 September 2011, at 10:21am

UK - The 2011 cereal and oilseed harvest has not been as bad as first feared despite this year’s extremely dry weather. Final results from the National Farmers Union’s (NFU) 2011 member survey have revealed a wide variation of yields across many parts of the UK with wheat yields below average, although oilseed rape production has increased to record levels.

Winter barley crops have struggled with production down on the five year average. While the later maturing spring barley crop may have started slowly in parts of the UK, much of the area planted did eventually benefit from summer rain in England and production looks set to be above the five year average.

UK wheat production for this year is estimated at around 14.67 million tonnes, down on the five-year average by 1.5 per cent, with plantings up 3.9 per cent.

Oilseed rape production is estimated at 2.618 million tonnes, up 29 per cent, with plantings up 12.85 per cent.

Winter barley production is estimated at 2.079 million tonnes, down 18.9 per cent, with plantings down 10.1 per cent. Spring barley production is estimated at 3.229 million tonnes, up 3.7 per cent, with plantings up 3.8 per cent on the five year average.

This year’s NFU wheat yield estimate is 7.4 tonnes per hectare and five per cent down on the five-year average; oilseed rape is 3.8 tonnes per hectare and up 13.6 per cent; winter barley is 5.8 tonnes per hectare and 9.6 per cent down; spring barley is 5.3 tonnes per hectare with no change on the five-year average.

Ian Backhouse, NFU combinable crops board chairman, said: “The key to understanding the impact for farmers from these results is the huge variability in yields we have seen this year, far more than in recent years. Some members have seen field or even whole farm record production in 2011, while others have had one of the poorest harvests on record."

“I believe this year’s overall wheat and winter barley yield decrease was largely due to tough growing conditions last spring, including one of the lowest ever rainfall levels recorded for the first half of the year across the majority of England. However, oilseed rape and spring barley performed far better across the UK than was feared, with the rain appearing in time to save these crops for most farmers."

"However, towards the latter part of harvest there was more variability in quality with summer rains preventing many farmers keeping up with ripening crops. Fortunately, much of the quality milling crop was already harvested and dried before exposure to prolonged rainfall."

"The current spell of dry weather will be of enormous help to those still working to complete their harvests as we move towards October, from a few in the south of England right through the UK to farmers in Scotland, and for establishing winter crops for next year’s harvest.“

Mr Backhouse also stressed how important CAP support had been for farmers that have struggled through the dry spell.

“Many in the eastern regions, where two-thirds of England’s wheat is grown, were particularly badly affected by a lack of rainfall. And for some farmers whose yields were hit most dramatically by the extremes in weather this year, CAP support has been really important as fertiliser, fuel and other input costs have continued their extraordinary rise and will have hit margins hard. This demonstrates the value of the single farm payment in shielding farmers from the extremes of climate and market volatility."

“Farmers have invested millions in drying to preserve grain quality. The Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) reports that wheat quality is very good this year, with a higher proportion expected to achieve full milling specification than for a number of years. Many report crops weighing heavier and high bushel weights are partly compensating for lower volume harvested."

"Oil content for rapeseed is also reported as above normal and while there have been some high protein barley crops we await the results of HGCA’s survey to learn more on the national picture for malting quality."

“Following a very dry spring and rains disrupting summer harvest in 2011, farmers invested in grain drying to protect quality and overcame a challenging season.“