Worried farmers say the next few weeks will be crucial for this summer's harvest - with potential yields already damaged by the wettest six months on record.

The wet autumn led to a "drastic reduction" in winter crops as farmers were unable to get seeds in the ground - and now the continued rainfall is also preventing many spring crops from being sown in waterlogged fields.

An annual survey by the AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) shows wheat areas down 15pc, oilseed rape down 28pc, winter barley down 22pc - although spring barley is up 29pc, reflecting changes in cropping decisions due to the wet autumn.

Unless the grim conditions improve in the coming weeks, analysts said a point could be reached where spring-sown varieties "will not be able to develop sufficiently to provide a viable crop".

Eastern Daily Press: North Norfolk farm contractor Kit PapworthNorth Norfolk farm contractor Kit Papworth (Image: Newsquest)

North Norfolk farm contractor Kit Papworth said: “It is extremely challenging at the moment. We have had the wettest six months on most people’s records. 

"By this time last year we had finished spring barley, we were drilling sugar beet and planting potatoes. This year, almost all of our seed remains in the shed.

"We have not done any sugar beet, no potatoes, and only about 10pc of our spring barley is in the ground, so it will inevitably affect yield going forward.

"We do need to be patient. We need crops to grow well, so we need to let the land dry and put them in good order.

"We have got four weeks of either very busy or very worrying times. If we have not got crops in the ground by the end of April, there will be a lot of very concerned farmers in Norfolk."

Julian Taylor and his family have kept weather records on their farm at Starston, near Harleston, since 1900.

Between 1900 and 1999 there were only seven years with more than 30 inches of rain. Since 2000, there have already been 10 years with more than that amount.

Last year's annual figure was the highest recorded, and February marked the culmination of the wettest six-month period the farm has ever experienced.

Mr Taylor said: “There is no doubt there are dire parts of Britain and even East Anglia, but we have been extremely fortunate in Starston, as we have managed to drill all our winter crops and they look like they are going to survive.

"But because the roots have not had to look for water, the concern is how deep those roots will go to chase water if it does dry out."

Eastern Daily Press: Julian Taylor with his son Dickon and the family farm's North Devon cattleJulian Taylor with his son Dickon and the family farm's North Devon cattle (Image: Denise Bradley)

Mr Taylor's son Dickon Lombe Taylor and his wife Emily run the farm's 105-strong herd of North Devon cattle - whose long-awaited spring move from winter sheds to grass pastures has been delayed by "a couple of weeks" due to the rain.

"Thankfully it is drying out now, but it is frustrating watching the grass growing and knowing I cannot put the cows out there yet," he said.

Eastern Daily Press: Zoe Leach, regional director for the National Farmers' Union (NFU) in the East of EnglandZoe Leach, regional director for the National Farmers' Union (NFU) in the East of England (Image: Newsquest)

Zoe Leach, regional director for the National Farmers' Union (NFU) in the East of England, said some of the arable crops which farmers did manage to plant last year looked "very poorly", while the rain had stalled progress on spring-sown wheat and barley, which were lower-yielding by nature.

"There is no two ways about it, the production forecast is looking very poor, which means we will end up importing more grains into the country this year," she said.

"​In general, combinable crops have had it pretty tough. We’ve also seen issues with a very difficult sugar beet harvest because it has been so wet, potatoes have had a terrible time as they have struggled to harvest and now they are struggling to get them carted in."

Eastern Daily Press: Flooded fields on the Euston Estate near ThetfordFlooded fields on the Euston Estate near Thetford (Image: Andrew Blenkiron)

Dr Leach said the bad weather had exacerbated financial pressures on farms already struggling with high prices and falling incomes, and the continued post-Brexit phase-out of EU subsidies, which are being replaced by new environmental payments such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) - which she fears may also affect long-term food production.

"There is always variability in the weather, but these events are becoming more and more frequent, so people are looking at the SFI schemes, and we are seeing more people reducing risk in their business by taking up options that are less dependent on the weather," she said.

"We are seeing a lot of people, for example, growing bird seed instead of growing food, which is obviously concerning if it is done on such a large scale.

"We have been lobbying the government to cap the amount of area that can go into these schemes because at the end of the day we still need to produce food as well as look after the environment."