Damage to crops brought by Storm Francis has added further misery to a difficult growing season but analysts have warned imports may place a cap on domestic price rises.
Weather has played havoc with harvest 2020, with some farmers still to get underway and others seeing huge variations in yields and quality across the country. Many are also facing a jump in production costs.
Nottinghamshire farmer John Charles-Jones said he would be harvesting only a fraction of the usual grain tonnage after losing his oilseed rape crop and waterlogged soils from September until early spring meant he was unable to drill any wheat.
He said: “The barley prospects are dismal and we are expecting a very low yield. Even if the weather picks up again soon, we will probably at best still end up with only 30 per cent of our usual harvest tonnage.”
Mr Charles-Jones said it would be the latest harvest in the farm’s history and estimated they had doubled their cultivation costs on a ‘significant chunk’ of the operation.
More than three-quarters of growers have incurred additional expenses this year, according to a survey of 66 UK farmers undertaken in April by the Small Robot Company as part of a Government consultation on food security.
Half had to carry out additional cultivations and more than a third said unused chemistry for winter crops was affecting cashflow.
Farmers had also faced rising costs from buying additional chemistry for spring crops, increased seed rates and hiring extra labour or contractors to deal with the compressed working window.
While domestic prices had lifted in response to a smaller harvest, Openfield analyst Cecilia Pryce reminded farmers the UK market did not operate in isolation from the rest of the world and ports could ‘import as well as they export’.
According to the Met Office, heavy rainfall is becoming more common and since 1998, the UK has seen seven of the 10 wettest years on record.
Winters in the UK for the most recent decade have been on average 12 per cent wetter than those from 1961-1990, while summers have been wetter by 13 per cent.
In south-west Lancashire, grower Paul Martland was concerned of a ‘real risk’ of not being able to harvest crops and called for help from Government.
He said they were in an area reliant on efficient drainage, but persistent rain meant the ditches were full.
“The weather was never like this 10 years ago and I think there is a case for perhaps a bolt-on to the single payment for arable farmers in areas known to be vulnerable who are going to lose this year’s crop,” Mr Martland added.