Survey finds decrease in UK cereals, oilseed harvest area

Wheat and oilseed harvest areas have dropped, while barley and oats areas have increased.

The total cereals and oilseeds harvest area in Great Britain fell to 3.68 million acres, a 4 percent decrease from 2012, according to the 2013 Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board/Home Grown Cereals Authority Planting and Variety Survey published July 22. The survey is based on responses from 3,473 growers for May, June and July 2013. As a result of the poor planting and growing conditions this year, farmers were asked to submit their intended harvest area rather than planted area.

While total area dedicated to barley and oats in Great Britain has increased, wheat and oilseed rape area has decreased, reflecting the poor planting conditions of last autumn and a switch to spring cropping.

Great Britain wheat area decreased 19 percent from 2012 at 1.61 million hectares, while total barley area is estimated to have increased 26 percent from 2012 figures at 1.23 million hectares.

Oilseed rape is estimated to be down 9 percent from 2012 levels at 686,000 hectares. Oats have increased by 32 percent to 159,000 hectares, and the Great Britain field bean area has also increased by an estimated 14 percent to 109,000 hectares.

“This season has been the most severe since 2001 when set-aside was still in place,” said Jack Watts, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board senior cereals and oilseeds analyst. “However, 12 years on with no set-aside to fall back on and relatively strong grain prices, the most economic scenario for the majority of growers has been to plant spring crops in place of what would have been winter crops.”

He added, “Yields still remain uncertain however, especially following the recent hot and dry conditions and ongoing concerns about soil compaction. For oilseed rape, there has been a large variation in individual farmer approaches to the decision to abandon crops, so this estimated decrease in oilseed harvest area needs to be treated carefully.”

Wheat   Down 19 percent at 1.61 million hectares  

No region of Great Britain appears to have escaped the effects of the difficult planting conditions of 2012. The reduction in wheat harvest area ranges from a fall of 12 percent in eastern England to an estimated 26 percent drop in the southwest. However, in absolute terms, the largest declines are seen in the east Midlands (a fall of 66,000 hectares), eastern England (63,000 hectares) and Yorkshire (55,000 hectares).

In Scotland, the intended harvest area is estimated at 86,000 hectares, down 14 percent from 2012 with a comparable level not seen since 2003. However, the wet autumn of 2012 followed a similar wet autumn for 2011, which reduced the Scottish wheat area. The estimated 86,000 hectares for 2013 is therefore a 25 percent drop from the 2011 harvest area (115,000 hectares).

The low Great Britain wheat area for this year makes it very likely that the UK will remain a net importer of wheat in 2013-2014 as it was in 2012-2013. 

“Although the fall in wheat harvest area is extreme, this is unlikely to come as a huge shock to the industry or the market which has been preparing for such a scenario for some time. Higher levels of carry over stock from the previous season may also partly offset the low level of production,” said Watts.

Wheat variety shares continue to evolve, with an estimated 56 percent of the Great Britain wheat area down to National Association of British and Irish Millers Group 4 varieties  an increase of 3 percent points on 2012. On-farm economics are a key driver of this trend with farmers looking to capitalize on high feed base prices. 

The share of Group 1 varieties fell by 2 percent points to 14 percent (222,000 hectares) of intended harvest area for 2013, reflecting the low milling wheat premiums of late spring/early summer 2012 when variety decisions for 2013 were being made. For National Association of British and Irish Millers Group 2 and Group 3 varieties, their share increased by 3 percent points to 12 percent (192,000 hectares) and decreased by 5 percent points to 15 percent (249,000 hectares), respectively.

Barley   26 percent increase to 1.23 million hectares

Driving the Great Britain barley harvest area is a 54 percent increase in spring barley to an estimated 922,000 hectares for 2013, with plantings in England forming the majority of the increase.

In Scotland, which accounts for a third of the Great Britain spring barley area, harvest area has increased by 5 percent to 303,000 hectares. Quality and yield depending, this could provide much needed supply for the distilling sector.

In terms of variety make up, 73 percent of the Great Britain area is estimated to be malting varieties  an increase of 6 percent points. However this may not result in an increase in malting availability at harvest, as pass rates will be heavily influenced by germination and nitrogen content, which are driven by the growing and harvesting conditions.

Oilseed rape   down 9 percent to 686,000 hectares

2013 marks the end of a three-year run where records have been set for the Great Britain oilseed rape area. The impact of abandonment, delayed crop development and the current hot and dry conditions is difficult to predict. The survey suggests the Great Britain winter oilseed rape area is down 19 percent from 2012.  To a certain extent, additional spring oilseed rape has offset some of the winter losses.

DK Cabernet remains the top oilseed rape variety  dominating 16 percent of the estimated harvest area  but this is down from 21 percent last year. PR46W21 was the second most prevalent variety, with 10 percent of the estimated area  an increase from 5 percent last season.

Oats   increase by 32 percent to 159,000 hectares

The Winter Planting Survey published in December 2012 suggested a 30 percent drop in the winter oat area compared to 2011. Potential factors driving the subsequent increase in spring plantings are increased oat milling demand, land free for cropping and available varieties. The spring oat variety Canyon was added to the Recommended List in 2011.

The full Planting and Variety Survey is available online from the Home Grown Cereals Authority website. A full analysis will be published in the July 24 issue of MI Prospects. The Home Grown Cereal Authority and Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board Cereal Quality Survey for the 2013 harvest will be published in autumn.