Winter cropping area in England and Wales up 14% for harvest 2014

The AHDB/HGCA Winter Planting Survey shows a rebound in winter cropping in England and Wales for harvest 2014, compared with harvest 2013. A total of 2.976M ha was planted to wheat, winter barley, oats and oilseed rape by 1 December 2013 – 14% more than the total area of these crops harvested in 2013.

The increase in winter plantings was facilitated by favourable weather conditions during the autumn, a stark contrast to the conditions during the winter planting window for harvest 2013.

Wheat plantings by 1 December in England and Wales are estimated at 1.815M ha. This represents an increase of 19% from the total area harvested in 2013, even before any late winter or spring wheat plantings.

Winter barley area as at 1 December is estimated to be 41% higher than was harvested in 2013 at 0.369M ha. This area suggests the highest level of winter barley planting in England and Wales since 2003, though the total barley area will depend on spring planting levels.

The oat area planted by 1 December is estimated at 89K ha, a fall of 38% from the total oat area (winter and spring crops) harvested in 2013. While winter plantings in England and Wales are lower, the final picture is not yet clear as spring plantings are important to the UK total, especially in Scotland and northern England.

Oilseed rape plantings also remain strong in England and Wales, with an estimated 0.703M ha planted by 1 December. This represents a 3% increase over the total (winter and spring) oilseed rape area harvested in 2013.

AHDB Senior Analyst Helen Plant said: “The rebound in winter planting represents a return to more ‘normal’ cropping after the extremes of the last two seasons, which has been expected by the market.

“The higher wheat area increases the likelihood of the UK being able to return to being a net exporter of wheat in 2014/15. However, weather conditions during the rest of the growing season will be important in determining the quality and yields, and thus the UK’s export potential next marketing season,” Ms Plant added.

“The expectation of a larger wheat crop is reflected in new crop pricing, with the November 2014 UK feed wheat futures prices trading at an increased discount to the equivalent Paris milling futures contract. The wheat area is also expected to remain high across Europe and with limited crop issues so far, the UK may face strong competition in export markets.”

For winter barley, the area has also recovered considerably and is estimated at levels not seen for a number of years. According to Ms Plant, “it seems likely that winter barley plantings have benefited from farmers looking to widen the harvest window and spread the workload. In some areas, extending the rotation as well as supporting the establishment of subsequent oilseed rape crops, may also have been a motivation.”

For oilseed rape, a combination of favourable conditions throughout the planting window and relatively strong gross margins has supported the place of the crop in many rotations. Generally, oilseed rape crops established well and although there are localised challenges due to the mild and very wet winter, the situation is still far removed from the difficult growing conditions of 2013 which led to greater levels of abandonment and spring planting.

After the England and Wales oat area hit a 36 year high in 2013, a decline for harvest 2014 has been largely expected due to lower prices for crops not grown on contract. While the current estimate doesn’t include spring oats, the large area planted to all winter crops may limit the area available for spring planting in England and Wales.

After a surge in 2013, spring cropping, including spring barley, spring oilseed rape and spring oats, is also likely to see a return to more typical levels.

Conditions were favourable through the early part of the planting window, enabling most growers to plant crops as planned. Unsettled weather returned in mid-October affecting the later part of the planting window, though as conditions improved towards the end of November, some crops may have been planted after 1 December.

It is also worth noting that for some growers the impacts of the extreme 2012 and 2013 seasons continue because the forced changes to cropping patterns have rotational implications.

This survey, which measures autumn crop planting up to 1 December 2013, is based on 2,771 responses from a representative sample of farm businesses.

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