“Arable farmers can make a choice to go out and try to squeeze another crop into the rotation but it [bad weather] is putting the feed costs up to livestock farmers enormously,” NFU boss Peter Kendall told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday (April 6). “We all know from pictures on the television and stories on the radio of people digging sheep out of snow drifts with their bare hands. Livestock farmers are facing crippling costs as well. So this is a perfect storm gathering for farmers.”
Britain could become a net importer of wheat for the first time in 11 years later this year, after poor weather last summer and autumn cut the average yield, which fell from 7.8t/ha to 6.7t/ha and reduced wheat plantings by a quarter.
‘Lost over 2Mt of wheat’
“At a stroke we lost over 2Mt of wheat because of the bad summer last year,” said Kendall. “I’ve been walking crops on the [family] farm in Bedfordshire and they look pretty thin. We normally say you should hide a hare in a crop of wheat in March, but you’d struggle to cover a mouse in some of mine at present.
“If we got three quarters of the area planted and the same yield as last year, we could be looking at a crop of only 11Mt of wheat, when we actually need 14.5Mt of wheat for our domestic use in the UK.”
Kendall said farmers needed government support to secure their businesses and raw materials for food manufacturers. “We produce the raw material for the biggest manufacturing sector in the economy so we do need to make sure that as farmers we knuckle down, we want support from the government – not financially – but to help us make investments to become more resilient because 3.6M jobs depend on food sector in the UK.”
Last year’s poor harvest forced Premier Foods to drop its pledge to buy only British wheat for its Hovis bread brand.