Two years ago Russia announced an export ban on wheat and the price went soaring upwards. In 2011 their harvest recovered and exports where resumed. This year droughts have affected North America, Australia and Russia pushing wheat prices up towards new all time highs, and although the UK, on a global scale, is not a major producer and a net importer, overall our yields here have been poor this year as well.
We played the weather lottery again this summer at Rathfinny, and after the warm dry spring we thought we’d have the same problem as last year, a drought that severely affected our yields of wheat, barley and rapeseed. Instead of the feared for drought, the UK had the wettest, coldest, April to June period on record. Similar to grapevines, wheat and barley don’t like the cold, or too much rain, and several farms in the southeast got flooded.
However, despite a broken combine-harvester, all the harvesting has now been completed on the wheat, barley and rapeseed we have growing on the other 400 acres at Rathfinny not under vines. So how did we get on?
Rapeseed yields were similar to last year, a low 1.3-1.5 tons per acre. It looked really good in flower in May and June but, largely due to the cold June weather, the berry size is small hence the low yield.
Barley yields were low, slightly better than last year’s but still a poor 2.2 tons per acre, and better on the upper slopes than lower ones.
Wheat yields were generally good, 3.7-4.2 tons per acre compared to 2.2 tons last year. Bizarrely, the poorer soils yielded better results?
So how are grain prices this year? Well despite Russia’s poor harvest they still plan to export 35-40million tons but, strong global demand and poor yields elsewhere has pushed the wheat price towards new all time highs and it seems likely that, despite the US Department of Agriculture’s attempts to reassure the market that they have sufficient stocks and we shouldn’t panic, prices seem set to reach new highs.
Now this is unlikely to affect the consumer in the UK where, the price of bread is so little to do with the wheat price and more to do with packaging, distribution costs, marketing, and retail margins. However, the big bread producers have already warned that prices will have to rise.
The biggest impact will be felt in the emerging world, where grain is an increasingly important part of the diet. This sort of increase in price will be immediately passed onto a consumer who is already struggling with higher energy prices.
So some good news for farmers struggling with low wheat yields, poor news for the consumer.
On a brighter note we are about the start work on the winery building. Pictures to follow soon.