NFU calls for stronger focus on crop research as harvest yields fall

Harvesting in Gayton. Picture: Ian Burt

Harvesting in Gayton. Picture: Ian Burt

Falling yields from this year's harvest should spark a stronger focus on crop research to ensure East Anglian farmers can remain competitive in the global marketplace.

That’s the call from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) after its annual harvest survey revealed yields were down across the sector compared to the previous year.

According to the survey, the wheat crop of 14.2m tonnes – which was down 14.9pc year-on-year – and the barley yield of 6.6m tonnes were in line with the five-year average, but provided a stark comparison with rising global production in 2016.

NFU East Anglia adviser Rachel Carrington, who leads on combinable crop issues, said: “We need to put more resources into research, focusing on solving problems that farmers deal with on a daily basis,” she said. “Our arable farmers are performing at a high level but it is vital they continue to do so in the face of stiff global competition

“In the years ahead we face the challenge of increasing domestic food production while minimising farming’s impact on the environment. Research and development will become ever more important in helping us to achieve both aims.

“In East Anglia we have the high quality farmland, farmers and scientists to play a leading role in taking this forward. The NFU is already working with research centres including Rothamsted in Hertfordshire and the John Innes Centre in Norwich on issues such as improving knowledge transfer, so farmers are kept up-to-date on new developments.”

The harvest survey also showed the oilseed rape crop area is now in its fifth year of decline. Production this year was 1.7m tonnes, down almost a third year-on-year and well below the five-year average of 2.5m tonnes.

NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly said: “Farmers currently do not have the confidence to continue planting similar areas of oilseed rape, particularly in the eastern side of the country. Something is not right there.

“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.”

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