England wheat production down, but better than predicted

Farmers invest in drying to preserve grain quality

England’s wheat harvest has not been as bad as first feared, despite the extremely dry weather, according to results of an NFU members’ survey.

Preliminary results from the NFU’s 2011 harvest survey have revealed yields are below average despite a cropping area up around 3% to 1.822 million hectares. English wheat production for the current year is estimated at around 13.636 million metric tons, down on the five-year average by 1.5%. “I believe this year’s 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,” said NFU combinable crops chairman Ian Backhouse. “Despite higher plantings, production this year is expected to be lower compared to last year due to lower yields. Production will be down on the five-year average by around 189,000 metric tons.”

Survey responses have pointed to a large variability in yields often linked to soil type and capacity to hold water where a fortunate few benefited from showers of rain this spring. Where sufficient rain fell in June and July onto later maturing crops, yields have been exceptional. 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.

Many farmers invested in drying to preserve grain quality, and the Home Grown Cereals Authority reported that wheat quality is very good this year, with a higher proportion expected to achieve full milling specification than for a number of years. Farmers are reporting crops weighing heavier and high bushel weights that are partly compensating for lower volume harvested. “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,” said Backhouse.