A survey released yesterday has predicted an even larger fall in production in England, with the wheat crop likely to go down by 14.9 per cent to total 14.2 million tonnes.
The chairman of the English NFU combinable crops board, Mike Hambly, said the decline in yield proved there was a real need for more crop research to help increase quality and yields.
Hambly said the drop in yield revealed in the union survey provided a stark comparison with cereal production rising throughout the world in 2016. And he claimed that for arable farmers to remain competitive in the face of volatile weather and low prices, crop research would have to come up with answers to present problems so that British farmers could remain competitive in the global marketplace.
He said: “A harvest that has seen lower-than-average yields should leave all cereals producers concerned, as global competitors with access to new technology and innovation see yields rise. It is frustrating to know that with research applied in the right way and with access to technology and innovations that competitors use to increase their production and lower their environmental impact, many more acres could be yielding – three times the national average now.”
He said there had been a long-term decline in investment in crop research, and resources needed to be put back into science focusing on solving problems that farmers now have to deal with on a daily basis.
“British cereals farming is performing at a good level right now but it could easily slip behind the pack if we don’t focus our efforts in the right areas.”
The NFU expressed particular concern over the future of oilseed rape growing in the UK following five years of decline in the planted area for the crop, along with expectations that next year’s harvest will continue that downward trend.
Hambly said: “Oilseed rape is an important crop that has good demand across a wide range of products including food, cosmetics, plastics, energy and animal feed. Farmers currently do not have the confidence to continue planting similar areas of oilseed rape, particularly in the east of the country.”
Looking to the future, he was pessimistic: “With a high global yield across cereals generally and supply outstripping demand, the only way we are able to compete is to lower the cost of our product per tonne. With average yields not improving and input costs rising, farmers are planting crops now that may be sold at a loss for the fourth consecutive year.”