According to the National Farmers’ Union, this year’s wheat harvest could be the worst since the 1980s and is likely to be down by around a third compared with last year.
The root of the problem dates back six months to February this year when the majority of the UK endured the wettest February on record. Storms Ciara and Dennis drenched many regions of the UK in the early and middle part of the month, resulting in widespread flooding. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Storm Jorge stopped by at the end of the month to dump more rain and misery on farmers and the great British public in general.
The February storms compounded what was already a particularly challenging situation for arable farmers. In many areas of the country, the ground was still wet following higher than average rainfall in the winter. The end result was that many farmers simply couldn’t get on to their fields with their drills, delaying the start of the growing season.
To make matters worse, the February deluge was followed by a dry spring with many farmers experiencing poor or delayed germination as a result.
In an interview with The Guardian, Tom Bradshaw, vice-president of the NFU said: “We’ve seen very challenging conditions across the country. Yields are down and this looks like the lowest harvest in about 30 years. The quality seems variable, but we won’t know what we’re looking at until it is all in.”
To add insult to injury, good growing conditions over the summer, when about half the wheat harvest was brought in across the country, came to an abrupt and dramatic halt when the mini heatwave gave way to violent thunderstorms.
If, as predicted, the UK returns its lowest wheat harvest in over 30 years, the UK would become a net importer of grain rather than a net exporter. This eventuality is unlikely, in itself, to present any real problems in terms of supply as harvests have been generally good in other major wheat-growing areas of the world. However, it would signal a difficult end to the year for many farmers following the disruption of lockdown resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
It seems that Ciara, Dennis and Jorge have got a lot to answer for. And now, in the last week of August, just in case anyone thought we’d seen the last of the extreme weather, along comes the high winds and torrential rain of Storm Francis to inflict further damage on the already bleak prospects for this year’s harvest.