No pot of gold at the end of this rainbow! Definitely the worst harvest in 40 years, for us anyway, though I believe some of the farmers on the southern chalk downlands have fared better. Meanwhile, those further north with no winter crop established at all are still to start. 2020 has been a horrendous year for everyone due to a multitude of issues. To be fair, ours have mostly been weather related, but Covid 19 has provided us with a whole new set of problems as we worked through the lockdown. So a huge thank you is due to my two tractor drivers Ian Painter and Trevor Bailey. They have risen to the challenge of new working practices and helped to look after the crops and bring them into the barns. The buildings are normally overflowing with grain at this time of year, sadly this harvest they are literally half empty.
The BBC continues to amaze me in its poorly researched stories on farming matters. Their recent piece about the price of bread, based on our poor harvest, is the latest example. The UK has had its worst harvest for many years, as indeed have parts of Europe, however this is not true for the rest of the world. Wheat is a global commodity and there is currently a surplus of production. The scare stories about the price of bread rising dramatically are a complete fallacy for 2 reasons: The wheat which is turned into flour to make an average loaf of bread accounts for only 11% of the total cost. Secondly, being a global product, the price of UK wheat will be capped by the cost of imported grain. So if you see bread go up by more than a penny or two someone is trying to make money from a crisis that does not exist. The real story behind all of this is food security. The UK currently produces about 61% of our food requirements. Obviously we can’t grow bananas here and various other items that need a warmer climate, however the current debate about running our farming industry down and replacing it with trees and wild flowers is very worrying. The poor harvest here was caused by some extreme weather events. A very wet winter followed by a spring drought just about did it for us, let alone the wet end to harvest. The UK is one of the most efficient countries in the world for grain production per unit area of land, mostly due to our maritime climate. Extreme weather events around the globe and much lower standards of production mean now is definitely not the time to further increase our reliance on imports. At the same time, a profitable farm is going to invest in the environment. We all want a sustainable system and to hand over the land to the next generation in a better condition than we may have found it. I think we are already doing this, but there is always room for improvement. My mantra would be to produce food from the centre of the fields, but to invest in the environment around the margins.
Meanwhile, back on the farm with the harvest now complete we will optimistically begin our new farming year and start planting crops for harvest 2021.
Finally, thank you to all the local residents for putting up with the noise, dust and large vehicles moving around at all times of day and night. Your cheery waves when we are working all helps. Enjoy your British grown produce knowing that it may well have been growing in a field not far from where you live.