Extreme weather hit wheat harvest by 38pc, say official estimates

Extreme weather has forced a significant drop in yields for East Anglia's cereal crops during the 20

Extreme weather has forced a significant drop in yields for East Anglia's cereal crops during the 2020 harvest. Picture: Kit Papworth - Credit: Kit Papworth

UK wheat production slumped by 38pc to 10.1m tonnes after a year of extreme weather took its toll on the 2020 harvest, according to official estimates.

Some East Anglian cereal farmers reported their worst-ever harvests this year after a challenging season which began with continuous rain in autumn and winter, leaving many crops struggling to establish roots, followed by a prolonged dry spell in spring – including East Anglia’s driest May on record – and a heatwave in the summer.

Defra’s figures show the weather contributed to a 20pc drop in the overall yield for cereal crops, with wheat yields dropping to 7.2t/ha (tonnes per hectare), well below the five-year average of 8.4t/ha.

But while the wet autumn meant the area of wheat planted was at its lowest for decades, there was a 54pc increase in the area of spring-sown barley, helping the total barley production figure to rise by 3.9pc to 8.4m tonnes in 2020.

Defra’s report says: “Between 2019 and 2020 the area of wheat fell by 22pc to 1.4m hectares and this is the smallest area of wheat recorded since the 1970s. This decrease was mainly driven by the wet weather during the winter planting.

“Despite the area of winter-sown barley decreasing by 30pc in 2020, with spring-grown barley increasing by 54pc, the total barley area saw an increase of 22pc and now stands at just over 1.4m hectares. This is the largest area of barley since 1990.

READ MORE: ‘We had 20pc of our annual rainfall in five days’ - farmers’ concerns amid autumn deluges“As a whole, provisional results for 2020 show that yields for all cereal crops have decreased compared to last year. However, yields in 2019 were similar to, and in some cases exceeded, those seen during the peak harvest of 2015.

“The overall yield for total cereals is showing a 20pc decrease from 7.9t/ha in 2019 to 6.4t/ha in 2020. Largely as a result of the decrease in yield, total cereal production has decreased by 23pc to 19.7m tonnes.”

The report says oilseed rape was also affected by the wet weather at the end of 2019, resulting in the total planted area falling by 27pc, production decreasing by 38pc and yields dropping by 16pc to 2.8t/ha in 2020.