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How serious could the current drought be for 2020 wheat yields?

Last week much of the UK received its first splash of rain in months, after May 2020 was named the driest since records began.

The low rainfall across all regions has been reminiscent of the 2011 season says Prof Roger Sylvester Bradley, crop physiologist at ADAS.

 

“Yields were quite good that year, despite the dry spring, because June and July rainfall was near normal.”


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Predictions

 

Reworking his 2011 predictions for autumn drilled wheat crops suggests 2020 rainfall may already have knocked 0.6 tonnes per hectare off the UK’s five-year average wheat yields of 8.4t/ha (see table).

 

Prof Sylvester Bradley says: “If the dry weather continues and June and July rainfall is just 10 per cent of the norm, average yields of autumn-drilled crops could fall to 5.5t/ha. If we get 50 per cent of normal rainfall, they could average 6.5t/ha.”

 

Predicted average regional & national wheat yields, 2020

Contribution

Av. yield

Predicted yields for 2020 with June & July rainfall

(5 yrs)

% norm

Region

% area

10%

50%

100%

t/ha

t/ha

t/ha

t/ha

North East

3%

8.4

5.6

6.6

7.9

North West

2%

6.2

6.7

7.9

(9.0)

Yorks & Humberside

13%

8.6

5.3

6.5

7.9

East Midlands

19%

8.5

5.2

6.2

7.5

West Midlands

9%

8.0

5.6

6.5

7.8

Eastern

26%

8.6

5.2

6.3

7.7

South East

12%

8.5

5.5

6.5

7.6

South West

9%

7.9

6.1

7.1

(8.4)

Wales

2%

7.6

6.1

7.2

(8.6)

Scotland & N Ireland

6%

8.3

6.1

7.1

8.4

UK average

8.4

5.5

6.5

7.8

() enough rain to exceed support the 5 year average.

Source: ADAS

 

Rooting

 

For many late-established or spring-sown crops, yields will depend a lot on how deep they have managed to grow their roots, he adds.

 

“Yield potential of crops is something we are looking at closely with the Yield Enhancement Network. Many factors affect yields in the UK, not just rainfall. Our table for 2020 just predicts yield based solely on rainfall, so it does not take other factors into account, and at present late drilling is still looking more important than the drought.”

Winter wheat area falls 61 per cent

Artificial Intelligence has been used to identify a reduction in winter sown crops. This could decrease wheat, barley and oat yields by 12 per cent, 5 per cent and 5 per cent respectively versus the 2019 season, according to data marketplace, Agrimetrics.

 

Last autumn parts of the UK saw twice the average seasonal rainfall. This was followed by some of the worst winter floods in memory.

 

Anecdotal evidence suggests drilling was delayed on many farms, especially in the North and Midlands.

 

Agrimetrics has used artificial intelligence to calculate the proportion of winter crops currently growing in a sample of UK fields. It then compared this to levels from 2017 to 2019.

 

“We’ve discovered that there is 61 per cent less winter wheat growing in the UK versus last year,” says Prof

Richard Tiffin, Agrimetrics’ chief scientific officer. “And there was 45 per cent less winter barley.”

 

Yields

 

Average differences in yields between winter and spring sown crops were then used to estimate a difference in yield.

 

“A rough estimation would suggest that 2020’s wheat harvest will be 12 per cent lower than in 2019,” Prof Tiffin adds. Barley is likely to be down 5 per cent.

 

However, calculations are based on a sample of fields and AI is not 100 per cent accurate, especially this early in the season, he adds.

 

“These numbers are significant enough to impact the UK’s domestic food supply.

 

“Eighty per cent of the grain used by UK millers comes from UK farms – and 95 per cent of that is winter wheat. Millers are going to have to look to overseas suppliers, which isn’t ideal in the current climate,” says Prof Tiffin.

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