Wet weather batters British wheat crop


The smallest wheat harvest in Britain for more than a decade should get underway in key growing regions this week, as disastrous wet weather hit a second successive crop, opening the way for a flood of imports in coming months.

Planting last autumn was wrecked by rain which also ruined the quality of the 2012 harvest. The UK had its second wettest year on record in 2012.

But while volumes are expected to be poor, farmers still hold out hope for better quality grain than last year.

"It is likely it will be a smaller crop than even last year but we are hoping it might be a [higher] quality crop," said James Mills, an advisor to the National Farmers' Union.

A survey conducted by the Home-Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) has estimated that Britain's wheat harvest area is expected to be down 19% this year.

Traders estimate the drop in area is likely to cut the wheat crop to around 12 million tonnes, down from last season's 13.3 million and far below the record 17.2 million harvested in 2008.

A poor quality crop last year forced bread makers to rely heavily on imports with Germany the most important supplier. Bread brand Hovis, for example, had to abandon a pledge to use only British wheat and remove the Union flag from its packaging.

Britain is normally a net wheat exporter, shipping roughly 2.5 million tonnes a year to customers in countries such as Spain and the Netherlands, while importing about one million tonnes from sellers including Canada, France and Germany.

Rains turned trade on its head with imports in the first 11 months of the 2012/13 season (July/June) soaring to 2.68 million tonnes while exports sank to just 666,864 tonnes.

A mix of hellish weather and prolonged dry spells in several EU countries in the summer of 2012 contributed to a global spike in food prices. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation reported that food prices rose 6% overall in July, with maize soaring 23% and wheat up 19%.

The higher prices were mainly blamed on a devastating drought in the American heartland, drought and wildfires in parts of the EU and lower than expect wheat yields in Russia.

Prolonged dry spells have threatened parts of China, Russia, Australia, France, Spain, Portugal and the southern United States in recent years – affecting food output but also raising worries about the long-term stability of water supplies.

Subscribe to our newsletters