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Price Hikes for UK Shoppers as Key Crops Decline by 20% in ‘Washout Winter

The UK is facing a significant decrease in the harvest of key crops this year, with estimates indicating a potential decline of nearly a fifth. This decline is primarily attributed to the unprecedented wet weather conditions that farmers have been dealing with, raising concerns about potential price increases for essential products like bread, beer, and biscuits.

According to analysis conducted by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), wheat, barley, oats, and oilseed rape production could drop by 4 million tonnes in 2024, representing a reduction of 17.5% compared to the previous year.

The challenges faced by farmers stem from heavy rainfall and adverse weather conditions over the winter months. The UK has experienced 11 named storms since September, leading to substantial rainfall. For instance, England witnessed 1,695.9mm of rainfall between October 2022 and March 2024, marking the wettest 18-month period since records began in 1836.

These weather conditions have led to flooded or damaged crops and difficulties in establishing new crops, impacting agricultural productivity and raising concerns about potential food price increases.

Tom Lancaster, a land analyst at ECIU, said: “This washout winter is playing havoc with farmers’ fields leading to soils so waterlogged they cannot be planted or too wet for tractors to apply fertilisers.

“This is likely to mean not only a financial hit for farmers, but higher imports as we look to plug the gap left by a shortfall in UK supply. There’s also a real risk that the price of bread, beer and biscuits could increase as the poor harvest may lead to higher costs.

“To withstand the wetter winters that will come from climate change, farmers need more support. The government’s green farming schemes are vital to this, helping farmers to invest in their soils to allow them to recover faster from both floods and droughts.”

The ECIU analysed data from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) from March, which looked at the amount of land set aside for crops, but also Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) data looking at crop yields in 2020, the next wettest year in recent times.

It estimated that all wheat produced would decline by 26.5% compared with 2023, while winter barley would drop by 33.1% and oilseed rape would reduce by 37.6%.

According to the ECIU, production of spring barley and spring oats will increase by 27% and 23% compared with last year, with farmers giving more area to spring crops due to the difficulties around planting and growing winter crops.

Earlier this month, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) called for more help to protect farmers from flooding, saying it was undermining the country’s food production and food security.

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The NFU vice-president, Rachel Hallos, also said this month: “People should be in no doubt about the immense pressure UK farm businesses are under thanks to this unprecedented and constant rain.

“It’s no exaggeration to say a crisis is building. While farmers are bearing the brunt of it now, consumers may well see the effects through the year as produce simply doesn’t leave the farm gate.”

Some farms in places including Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire were badly affected by persistent rain since October, meaning they have not been able to plant any crops, while the wet weather has significantly depleted the amount other farms have been able to plant.

Colin Chappell, an arable farmer from Lincolnshire and member of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), said the wet weather had had a massive impact, with virtually no crops being successfully drilled this winter. He said: “While it’s now dry enough to plant some fields, some of them are so bad I don’t think they’ll get drilled this year.”

Last week, the head of Associated British Foods – one of the UK’s biggest bread makers, which owns Kingsmill and Ryvita – warned of potentially higher prices if the rise in cost of domestic grains is not offset by larger harvests abroad.

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