UK Faces ‘Washout Winter’ Impact: Key Crop Shortages May Trigger Price Hikes for Bread, Beer, and Biscuits

The UK is grappling with the aftermath of a ‘washout winter,’ which threatens to drive up prices for essential goods such as bread, beer, and biscuits, as key crop yields face a significant decline of nearly a fifth due to unprecedented wet weather conditions.

Analysis conducted by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) indicates that crucial crops like wheat, barley, oats, and oilseed rape could plummet by 17.5% this year, equating to a reduction of 4 million tonnes compared to 2023.

Farmers across the UK have endured the brunt of relentless rainfall and adverse weather conditions throughout the winter months, exacerbated by the onslaught of 11 named storms since September.

In England alone, precipitation levels soared to 1,695.9mm between October 2022 and March 2024, marking the wettest 18-month period on record since 1836.

This deluge has rendered fields waterlogged, rendering them unsuitable for planting or application of fertilizers, thereby impeding crop establishment.

Tom Lancaster, a land analyst at ECIU, said: “This washout winter is playing havoc with farmers’ fields leading to soils so waterlogged they cannot be planted or too wet for tractors to apply fertilisers.

“This is likely to mean not only a financial hit for farmers, but higher imports as we look to plug the gap left by a shortfall in UK supply. There’s also a real risk that the price of bread, beer and biscuits could increase as the poor harvest may lead to higher costs.

“To withstand the wetter winters that will come from climate change, farmers need more support. The government’s green farming schemes are vital to this, helping farmers to invest in their soils to allow them to recover faster from both floods and droughts.”

To address the challenges posed by increasingly wet winters resulting from climate change, Lancaster stressed the importance of government support, particularly through green farming schemes aimed at enhancing soil resilience against floods and droughts.

The ECIU’s analysis, based on data from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra), underscores the severity of the situation. It projects substantial declines across various crops, with wheat, winter barley, and oilseed rape particularly hard-hit.

While production of spring barley and spring oats is expected to increase, farmers are allocating more land to spring crops in response to the challenges associated with planting and growing winter crops.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has echoed concerns about the impact of flooding on agricultural productivity and food security, emphasizing the urgency of providing additional support to affected farmers.

Colin Chappell, an arable farmer from Lincolnshire, highlighted the profound impact of the wet weather on crop planting, with some fields remaining unplanted due to persistently unfavorable conditions.

As the UK grapples with the aftermath of a ‘washout winter,’ concerns about food prices mount. The head of Associated British Foods, a major bread manufacturer, has cautioned about the potential for price hikes unless larger harvests abroad offset the rising costs of domestic grains.

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