Attack by rare pest damages wheat crop: Hot June weather blamed for plague of orange blossom midges. David Nicholson-Lord reports

(First Edition)

While the nation was riveted by the sunniest and driest Wimbledon in 16 years, a tiny insect was slowly chomping through its supply of potential cucumber sandwiches.

Between 10 and 15 per cent of the lowland wheat-growing area has been damaged by the orange blossom midge, a rare pest not seen in such numbers in the UK for probably half a century. The reduction in wheat yields is estimated at between 2 and 5 per cent; on some farms it is up to 30 per cent.

Agricultural scientists are at a loss to explain the outbreak. However, the warm, dry weather during Wimbledon fortnight - the period at the end of June when the ears on the wheat begin to form - was crucial, enabling the midges to lay their eggs in the wheat kernels.

The midge, 2mm long, can lie in the soil in pupa form for up to 20 years; sightings of it are reported about every nine years. Warmer and wetter weather earlier in the season has been advanced as a reason why it has emerged in numbers not seen in some areas for up to a century.

The Ministry of Agriculture said it was 'just one of those things'. Alternative hypotheses link it with climate change caused by global warming - which has produced milder winters and more pests - and with the increase in agricultural 'set aside', land taken out of production which may act as a source of pests and crop disease.

Dr Mike Carver, director of the privately-run Arable Research Centres, said the outbreak was a mystery. 'Every agronomist will give you a very profound statement based on absolutely nothing. We were hoping for a damn good harvest before this happened. It has really taken everyone by surprise.'

Because the larva eats the wheat grain from the inside, it is not easily detectable. By the time it was spotted, in a swathe along the south and east coasts from Wiltshire to Yorkshire, it was too late for spraying.

The milling industry has warned that bread wheat supply could be tight this year. Production is estimated at 2.5 million tons, with demand between 2.5 and 3 million tons. According to the ministry and the National Farmers' Union, it is too early to judge the impact on bread prices.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
News
(David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Planner

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen withi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £15864.28 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Re...

Recruitment Genius: Existing Customer Telephone Consultants

£13000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Every day they get another 1000...

Recruitment Genius: Contract Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor