Extreme weather threatens UK food security

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

A 'washout winter' has threatened UK food security. Image: Getty, ChuckSchugPhotography
A 'washout winter' has threatened UK food security. Image: Getty, ChuckSchugPhotography

Related tags Agriculture

The price of bread, beer and biscuits are at risk of rising after a ‘washout winter’ ravaged key crops in the UK, according to the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).

Analysis by the ECIU found that wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape may be down by 4 million tonnes compared to 2024, a reduction of 17.5%, and down 21.2% compared to the 2015-2023 average.

Tom Lancaster, land analyst at ECIU said: “This washout winter is playing havoc with farmers’ fields leading to soils so waterlogged they cannot be planted or too wet for tractors to apply fertilisers.

“This is likely to mean not only a financial hit for farmers, but higher imports as we look to plug the gap left by a shortfall in UK supply. There’s also a real risk that the price of bread, beer and biscuits could increase as the poor harvest may lead to higher costs.

Threat to food security

The National Farmers Union has warned that the extreme weather associated with climate change now presents one of the biggest threats to UK food security.

Wet weather is of particular concern for the UK’s wheat harvest, with the ECIU estimating production could be down by more than a quarter (26.5%) compared to 2023. What’s more, the higher quality requirements of milling wheat will make it even harder for farmers to achieve high yields in wetter weather, with estimates that harvests could be down as much as 40%.

“To withstand the wetter winters that will come from climate change, farmers need more support,” ​Lancaster added. “The governments green farming schemes are vital to this, helping farmers to invest in their soils to allow them to recover faster from both floods and droughts.”

It’s not just millers that will face higher costs. Extreme weather conditions also threaten crops such as barley, leading to higher costs for brewers and distillers scrambling to find alternative sources for their ingredients – and a more expensive pint.

Cost of the weekly shop

“Farmers are saying this is the worst winter they’ve ever experienced​,” said ECIU land analyst Tom Lancaster. “Coming just as food prices were coming down after the gas price crisis, the public will now rightly fear what this means for the cost of their weekly shop.

“Given half our food comes from abroad, the UK will have to ensure farmers are supported here in the UK, but also in countries that grow the fruit and other staples we can’t, that are also being battered by weather extremes.

“With climate impacts only increasing as the world warms, we need to view this winter as a harbinger of things to come. Moving faster to net zero emissions is the only guaranteed way to limit these impacts and maintain our food security.”

Meanwhile, cereal growers look set to face pressure from crop diseases caused by septoria this year due to the “perfect storm” of weather conditions.

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