As the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) harvest survey reveals a significant drop in yield across all major crops, the NFU is calling for government policies that will help farmers cope with the ever-increasing volatile weather, build more resilient businesses and continue to deliver a secure supply of food for the nation.

The survey results show that wheat yields and winter barley yields were down 18% from 2019, spring barley yields were down 6% and oilseed rape yields were down 15%.

It follows the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra’s) recently-published provisional results on the overall volume of production which indicates that the 2020 wheat crop could be the smallest since 1981.

Change in farm payments

As farm payments are set to change from next year, the NFU is asking for short, medium and long-term measures to help growers build resilience, both financially and when it comes to mitigating the impacts of extreme weather on their crops.

These include:

  • The prompt and full delivery of Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments for 2020;
  • Clarity from the government as to how it will address the gap that the loss in BPS payments will leave when it starts to be phased out from next year;
  • Supportive policies both within the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme and beyond that will help protect crops during drought or flooding, such as improving soil structure to increase water holding capacity and boosting research into breeding more pest and disease tolerant crop varieties.

NFU combinable crops board chairman Matt Culley said:

Over the past 12 months we’ve experienced pretty much every weather extreme possible, from severe flooding to prolonged heatwaves.

“These weather patterns are only going to become more frequent so it’s absolutely vital we address this volatility and find solutions to help deal with it.

“This all comes at a time when the importance of domestic food production and food security has been put into sharp focus by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We know that a productive farming industry is important to the people of this country – 88% of people said so – and we want to ensure this is maintained long into the future.”

‘The foundation of the British food system’

Culley continued:

The arable sector forms the foundation of the British food system, delivering some of the nation’s staple foods as well as underpinning other farming sectors too, for example with feed for livestock.

“As we look ahead to next year’s harvest, we need to ensure our sector is resilient, sustainable and profitable. Many farmers I have spoken to are now experiencing cash-flow issues and trying to establish next year’s crops with little revenue from this last harvest.

“This situation can be eased in part with farm payments made in full and on time this winter.

As we move beyond the current farm payment system, we need, as a matter of urgency, real detail about the new ELM schemes and how arable farmers can get involved.

“For example, schemes to protect crops during drought or flooding, by improving soil structure to increase water holding capacity, will help support arable farmers as they play their vital role producing the nation’s food in increasingly challenging conditions,” he concluded.