Challenging weather sees switch to spring cropping

The 2020 AHDB Planting and Variety Survey has revealed a large swing to spring cropping due to poor autumn conditions.

Wheat plantings have dropped 25% from 2019 to 1.363 million hectares in Great Britain (GB), with much of this replaced by spring barley or oats.

Although there will be a plentiful supply of barley, for wheat there are concerns about both the lower planted area and the quality of the crop, as dry conditions in spring have hindered crop development.

Oilseed rape (OSR) area has drastically reduced, continuing last year’s downwards trajectory. Many growers this year have withdrawn the crop from rotation, with the wet autumn severely affecting both the ability to drill and crop establishment.

This, combined with ongoing pest pressure, has meant the 2020 harvest area for OSR is the lowest recorded in England since 2002.

Anthony Speight, AHDB analyst, said: “The UK grower has faced many challenges this season, with a very wet autumn, followed by an extremely dry spring.

However, it is critical to note going into the next marketing season, that although we are going into a wheat deficit, our prices will be capped by the market as we reach import parity.

“Furthermore, barley export markets beyond Europe may be our only option after December, depending on the progress of Brexit negotiations.”

AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Board chairman Paul Temple added: “For most growers, this has been a season they would rather forget. As they start planning for the first crops post-Brexit, two things will be important: The market they choose to target and varieties that offer agronomic resilience.”

Crop snapshot

The key findings of the survey are:

  • GB wheat area is estimated at 1.363 million hectares – a 25% decrease from 2019
  • GB spring barley area is estimated at 1.063 million hectares – up 52% from 2019;
  • GB winter barley area is estimated at 296,000ha – a 34% decrease from 2019;
  • Area of oilseed rape in England and Scotland is estimated at 387,000ha – down 26% from 2019;
  • Area of oats in England and Scotland is estimated at 211,000ha – a 21% increase from 2019;
  • Skyfall is the most popular wheat variety, with 10% of the area planted;
  • RGT-Planet is the most popular barley variety, accounting for 28% of the area planted.


As anticipated, every single region within GB recorded a decrease in wheat area. Nationally we are recording a year-on-year reduction of 25%, putting the GB area of wheat at 1.36 million hectares.

The challenging weather played a major part in this reduction. Persistent rain throughout autumn and winter altered many growers’ intentions, causing them to switch to planting spring crops when unable to get winter crops drilled.


The overall GB barley area is recorded to be 1.358 million hectares, an increase of 19% year-on-year.

With plentiful production in 2019, from a market perspective, the cropping area for barley should have reduced. Throughout the 2019-2020 marketing year, barley maintained a significant discount to wheat, making it economically less attractive.

Nevertheless, the challenging autumn drilling meant that many growers shifted their intentions away from winter wheat to planting spring barley. However, barley yields for 2020 may be compromised, from increased spring cropping and a very dry spring.

Winter barley

The overall winter barley area for 2020 has reduced by 34% year-on-year to 296,000ha. Like winter wheat, the weather posed significant challenges during drilling and after November much winter barley would not have been drilled.

Spring Barley

The spring barley area is recorded at 1.063 million hectares, increasing by 52% from 2019. The most notable rise has been in England, at 76%.

A lack of winter drilling of both wheat and barley led to spring barley being the most viable option for many growers.

Aside from the poor weather conditions, spring cropping is often used as a cultural control for black grass.


England and Scotland’s oat area for 2020, is predicted to be 211,000ha. With Scotland slightly reducing their area by 2%), England accounts for an increase of 26%.

There have been significant area increases in the East Midlands (an additional 10,000ha), South East (an additional 9,000ha), and West Midlands (an additional 6,000ha).

From the Early Bird Survey data, we know a lot of intended oat plantings were scheduled for the spring, again as an alternative to the lack of winter drilling or to replace OSR.

Oilseed rape

With dryness during planting and excessive autumn rain, coupled with cabbage steam flea beetle (CSFB) damage, there has been a drastic reduction in OSR in England for 2020.

The area in now recorded at 355,000ha, down 28% year-on-year – the lowest recorded area in England since 2002.

The current condition of the OSR crop could pose a significant reduction in regional yields, resulting in a sizeable decrease in production. Combining all these challenging factors, we could see the lowest OSR production this millennium.