It's harvest time across the UK and arable farming for the 2020 season has without a doubt suffered its ups and downs. For some farmers, it’s a good year. However, where do we begin to understand the major issues the industry has faced?
The wet autumn in the UK last year meant that many farmers in the parts of the country failed to get their winter crops established. This led many down the path of changing their cropping plans. These changes resulted in more spring crops getting planted where winter wheat and oilseed rape would have been grown. The majority of spring crops planted were barley with much of this intended for the malting industry – distilling and brewing.
So far, so good.
Where this course of action fell down was with spring 2020 being unexpectedly very dry. With lower-than-average precipitation in March, April and May. Once again these conditions caused issues with establishment of the crops and the yield and quality produced.
Not so good. Then bring in COVID 19 to throw us all into unprecedented territory.
The distilleries and breweries unfortunately reduced demand due to lockdown and suddenly we’re in a perfect storm. On one side, that extra malting grade barley that was being produced due to the existing planting conditions. On the other, the market for the harvested grain facing reduction or postponement.
Some growers have managed to obtain the sale but due to demand restrictions, the grain is not required until later in the year or even 2021 spring. The farmer then has to arrange safe storage for the grain until it is uplifted. On a purely arable farm, this might not be so much of an issue, however, on a mixed farm where there are cattle that need to be brought inside for the worst of the winter weather, this is bound to be a logistical headache.
Yet, as the 2020 harvest is coming in, the farmers are already looking to their crop rotation for the 2021 harvest.
It seems that there may be a swing away from spring barley in the coming year, due to the above oversupply and the resultant scarcity of contracts from the maltsters and we may see more oilseed rape and winter wheat being sown on many farms, to spread their financial risk.
Thankfully for the industry, not everybody has suffered from these issues and for some farmers it has been business as usual. However, will the supply and demand situation with the brewing and distilling industry level out? There are so many unknowns at this stage facing the agricultural industry – COVID 19, Brexit, export markets, tariffs, weather.
As farmers, all we can do is try to keep producing the quality food and drink that we are renowned for and keep watching the weather forecasts.
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Jean Arnott-Glennie, Rural Business Executive