The wettest year on record in England cut sowings of winter
wheat even more than had been thought, with plantings falling below 1.4m
hectares for the first time in more than 30 years.
The first official data on national plantings, from the HGCA
crop bureau, estimated sowings in England, which account for the vast majority
of UK seedings, at 1.39m hectares, a drop of 25% year on year.
The figure, the lowest since the 1.34m hectares planted for
the 1979 harvest, is accurate as of December 1, meaning it could yet be swollen
by late seedings.
However, consultancy Adas last week said that farmers had
managed to do "little fieldwork" over the winter been done, at least until the middle
Commentators that Agrimoney.com has spoken to had talked of
winter wheat plantings falling 20%, or potentially a little less.
Depressed yield potential?
The data "reflect an extremely difficult autumn planting season,"
the HGCA said, also revealing a 19% drop in barley sowings in England and Wales
to 279,000 hectares as of December 1, a figure which would be the lowest since
at least the 1970s.
And the bureau added that even the crops that had been sown
were "likely to be poorly established" because of the excessive damp".
"This may make crops less resilient against any extreme
weather into spring and summer," senior analyst Jack Watts said.
As a further threat to growers, these harbingers of a weak
harvest come at a time when many countries are forecasting bumper crops, with Australia's
Abares bureau, the International Grains Council and the United Nations also
foreseeing a rebound in the world harvest.
"It is important to remember that despite the condition of
UK crops, UK grain and oilseed markets operate in a global market," Mr Watts
"It is critical to monitor the global situation, which will
be the main price driver," with the UK situation affecting the relationship
between domestic prices and those on the world market.
He singled out in particular the need for rapeseed farmers to
take an international view of pricing potential.
While rapeseed farmers face elevated levels of crop abandonment,
albeit on sowings down only 1% year on year, "whether this has an effect on prices
remains to be seen", the HGCA said.
Mr Watts said: "When
considering rapeseed price direction, it needs to be looked at from a European
"In this context, the UK – and to a smaller extent, France –
are the only major producing member states [in the EU] with crop condition
issues so far."
Agrimoney.com cautioned in January over the threat to UK
farm profitability from a year promising both depressed crop production and lower
The extent of the ground left unplanted is expected to
foster a rush to sow spring barley, traditionally the crop favoured in springs
following difficult autumn sowings.
UK sowings of spring barley are widely expected to top
800,000 hectares, rising by at least 30%.
"However, the availability of seed could be a limiting
factor," Mr Watts said.