Cereal yields are ‘worst since 1998’

Waterlogged fields.
Waterlogged fields.

INITIAL estimates of this year’s harvest show a drop in yields, despite an increase in cereal production land.

Latest figures announced by the Scottish Government on Monday suggest an overall decrease in cereal production on last year by 354,000 tonnes, or 12 per cent, to 2.5 million tonnes – and this while cereal areas had increased by 11,000 hectares (27,200 acres).

And average yields are expected to decrease by 14 per cent to 5.5 tonnes per hectare – the lowest since 1998.

That accords with what local farmers are saying, according to NFU Scotland’s regional manager for the Borders, Nina Clancy

She said: “This area has had over 170 per cent of its annual rainfall. The conditions have been awful all year. Yields and quality are well back.

She continued: “Soil damage is a major issue and will also affect next year’s crop.”

The biggest expected hit nationally will be in wheat production, down by an estimated 250,000 tonnes or 27 per cent to 683,000 tonnes. The government’s chief statistician suggests it is because of 15,000 hectares (13 per cent) being taken out of the crop and anticipated average yields decreasing by 16 per cent to 6.8 tonnes per hectare.

Also badly affected is the oilseed rape sector where experts say production is likely to be down by over a quarter. The decrease will be about 40,000 tonnes (26 per cent) to 110,000 tonnes, caused by 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) no longer being planted in the crop and an expected decrease in yield of 23 per cent.

Otherwise, barley production is expected to decrease by 112,000 tonnes, or six per cent, to 1.7 million tonnes and despite a 10 per cent rise in the area of spring barley, the expected 13 per cent reduction in output (to 4.9 tonnes per hectare) will result in a drop in production of five per cent (to 1.408 million tonnes).

Winter barley yield will be down by an estimated eight per cent, resulting in an expected 14 per cent reduction in production to 279,000 tonnes.

But oats are bucking the trend, expected to increase by 9,000 tonnes, or eight per cent, to 131,000 tonnes because of a nine per cent rise in planted area and despite an expected one per cent decrease in yield.

The estimates are the result of an annual crop report meeting between representatives from industry bodies and Scottish Government officials.

A government spokesperson said: “This annual consultation produces expected yields and expected production volumes, based on known production of around a quarter of all Scottish cereals. Although the estimates from the expert panel are fairly reliable, they tend to overestimate production in the region of two to five per cent.”

Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said: “This has clearly been a difficult harvest for many parts of Scotland and has also been much later than normal. With cereal yields and quality expected to be lower than usual, there is no doubt this is a tough time for arable farmers.

“We will continue to monitor the impact of the wet weather on our farmers and wider rural communities, and work with them to help them to adapt to challenges they may face.”

The final Scottish harvest estimates will be published in December.