Poor Wheat Harvest in East Cambs Will See Bread and Cereal Prices Soaring

PUBLISHED: 12:59 24 September 2008 | UPDATED: 10:32 04 May 2010

POOR wheat harvests have hit farmers in East Cambridgeshire hard - and are set to send prices of bread and cereal soaring over the next two years. Chris Jackson, 52, of Little Downham, who farms near Ely, said: It s up there this year, with the worst of

POOR wheat harvests have hit farmers in East Cambridgeshire hard - and are set to send prices of bread and cereal soaring over the next two years.

Chris Jackson, 52, of Little Downham, who farms near Ely, said: "It's up there this year, with the worst of the harvests. I've been farming since I was 17-18, and it's certainly up there. We took 5,000 tons out this year and only 1,500 tons of it is any good."

Farmers from Littleport and Stuntney, Richard Lee, and Geoff Norman, confirmed Mr Jackson's fears that our cold, wet summer has played havoc with harvesting season, not just in East Cambs, but nationwide.

For wheat to be used in bread and milling, which nets farmers a high price per ton, it should be harvested during dry, sunny weather. Remaining moisture must be dried out in store before it can be sold on to grain merchants - otherwise the grain goes mouldy and is suitable only for animal feed, which nets farmers a much lower price than milling wheat.

In a typical year, all wheat would be harvested by the end of September, and ploughing underway, but the National Farmers' Union estimates at least 30 per cent of the UK's wheat is still left in fields. Mr Jackson finally finished harvesting on Friday, around a month later than usual. "We have to work on getting the crop in the ground for next year now," he added. "It doesn't have a drastic effect on the quality, but if we put it in late it will have an effect on the yield. You will certainly feel the prices go up in the supermarkets the next couple of years - its me and you that will be paying more for it."

Many farmers have left it until the last minute to harvest their wheat, hoping for dry weather, swamping local storage facilities and who have large industrial dryers are big enough to cope with a whole crop of wet wheat. Even large-scale farmers who have their own dryers on site, have been at capacity - and as the tons pour in the previous intake must be dry enough to pass on to grain merchants.

Smaller-scale farmers, such as Geoff Norman, who farms at Littleport, do not have the facility to dry wheat on their own farms -he sends his wheat to farmer's co-op merchant Fengrain, based at Wimblington, near March.

Fengrain were forced to restrict their intake of certain crops for short periods this month, to give them the chance to get the unprecedented volumes of wet wheat conditioned for their customers.

"No two years are the same, but this year is radically different," said Paul Randle of the farmer-owned mutual company. "Nearly all of wheat has been above the 15 per cent moisture content required by millers and processors this year," he added. "The wetter it is, the longer it takes to dry the wheat, and it has to be done within a certain time period otherwise it can start to germinate. Unfortunately the cost of drying wheat has to be met by the farmers - it's them that take the hit, but being a member of Fengrain storage is a big advantage as drying is at subsidised rates. We expected, and planned for high yields, but the harvest period had been constantly wet, which has affected quality. Milling wheat [which has a higher protein content] will be at a premium and at some point that price will be passed on to the consumer further down the chain."

Aside from bad weather, farmers have also been hit by soaring prices of red diesel, which is used to power agricultural vehicles. The fuel is twice as expensive as it was a year ago, and Geoff Norman, says that despite police claims that diesel theft is not rising, he and his neighbours try not to leave combine harvesters and other agricultural vehicles in fields overnight due to anecdotal reports of diesel siphoning.

When oil prices hit a record high this year, it also put up the price of fertiliser which contains oil products - doubling the cost of maintaining the crop in the first place.

nThe National Farmer's Union is trying to build up a picture of the state of this year's wheat harvest across the UK. Arable farmers can complete the survey at www.nfuonline.com

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