Beleaguered farmers' third poor harvest in a row means British shoppers will rely on imported food - and prices will rise

Crops from potatoes and peas to cereals are being hit, leading to increased reliance on imported produce

Andrew Johnson
Tuesday 02 April 2013 08:42

Britain’s farmers are facing the third poor harvest on the run as the coldest March in 50 years plays havoc with crop planting – already significantly down because of last year’s wet weather.

With the cold snap set to continue through April farmers say crops such as potatoes, peas, tomatoes and ornamental flowers have either not been planted, are not growing or are being stunted by the lack of light.

This follows low winter planting levels of cereal crops – a fifth down on last year because of the wet weather. A shortage of spring seed is adding to the problems.

Lower UK crop yields will make UK consumers more reliant on imports and the vagaries of the international markets, which could push up prices. Livestock farmers have been struggling to cope for some time with feed shortages due to poor grass growth in the summer, and continuing snow hampering deliveries.

Farmer’s Weekly columnist David Richardson, who farms near Norwich in Norfolk, said: “Last year our acreage was in the ground by 2 March. This year, with snow falling every day and frosts most nights, there’s no hope of drilling anything. 2013 will be the third poor year in succession.”

Lincolnshire farmer Mark Pettit told the magazine that slug damage and dead patches meant the wheat harvest would be down by 30 per cent – from 15m tonnes to 10m.

The results of the winter planting survey by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board showed that until December in England and Wales wheat planting was down by 25 per cent on the previous year, barley down by 19 per cent and oats down 30 per cent. Overall cereal crops were down by 19 per cent.

The board’s senior analyst Jack Watts said: “Traditionally, following a difficult autumn planting spring barley is the most popular ‘go to’ spring crop. However, the availability of seed could be a limiting factor.”

He added: “It is important to remember that UK grain and oilseed markets operate in a global market. It is critical to monitor the global situation.”

Reports from the National Farmers Union Board for Horticulture and Potatoes, which represents growers, provides a snapshot of the difficulties farmers are facing. Growers of potatoes, peas and flowers for garden centres all saying their planting was late and existing crops were being hampered by the cold and poor light.

The board’s chairman, Guy Poskitt, a Yorkshire farmer who grows root vegetables wrote: “The main concern is the land being very wet and cold. Nothing is growing and the prospect of early crops or high yielding summer crops now looks low. Another year of shortage is highly likely.”

He told The Independent: “We’re about a fortnight to three weeks behind. Nature’s a wonderful thing and it might turn around with a warm summer. But if not we’ll need more imports and that means prices go up.”

Tim Papworth, who farms in Norfolk, added: “We are well behind on planting potatoes and drilling peas which will push the whole season back.”

Soft fruit grower Anthony Snell of the West Midlands said: “Yields and production will inevitably be down, but there will be a consistent programme of production throughout the season to ensure that we have enough soft fruit for every summer event.”

Tomato farmer Paul Simmonds of East Anglia added: “Light is significantly down on levels expected for this time of the year.”

Flower growers are facing huge energy bills as they struggle to keep crops warm and supplied with light.

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