UK food security: winter washout could cut harvests by a fifth

UK wheat harvest could be down by over a quarter, potentially putting pressure on the price of bread.

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By George Smeeton

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New analysis reveals for the first time the impact that this year’s unprecedented wet weather may have on the UK harvest of some key crops.

The analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), estimates that the production of wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape may be down by 4m tonnes compared to 2023, a reduction of 17.5%. Compared to the 2015-2023 average, the decline would be over 5m tonnes, or 21.2%. The analysis is based on Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) crop area forecasts and Defra yield data.

Farmers have been battling to establish their crops in one of the wettest winters on record, with the National Farmers Union (NFU) now warning that the extreme weather associated with climate change presents one of the biggest threats to UK food security [2]. Warmer wetter winters are expected to increase in frequency as the climate warms.

Commenting, Tom Lancaster, 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 governments 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.”

The impact of the wet winter is a particular concern for the UK’s wheat harvest. The ECIU estimate that the wheat production could be down by up to 26.5% compared to 2023. Milling wheat used to make bread could be hit particularly hard, as it needs to meet higher quality requirements that will be more difficult for farmers to achieve with the wet weather [3]. UK flour millers last week estimated that the milling wheat harvest could be down by as much as 40% [4].

With the premium for milling wheat over feed wheat at historically high levels [5], many farmers are set to lose out on vital income. UK millers normally source around 80% of their wheat from British farms [6], a figure that is likely to be well down after this year’s harvest. This has led to one of the UK’s biggest bread makers warning that the price of a loaf could increase [7].

Reflecting on the wet winter, Colin Chappell, an arable farmer from Lincolnshire and member of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) said: "It's had a massive impact on us. We went through the winter with virtually nothing viable drilled, and while it's now dry enough to plant some fields some of them are so bad I don't think they'll get drilled this year. The situation is very hit and miss. Looking ahead, the new Sustainable Farming Incentive is how my farm is going to survive over the next few years. The climate is making farming on heavy clay soils like mine very difficult and quite demoralising.”

With the wet weather continuing to hamper planting of spring crops like barley, the historically high malting barley premium may hold, leading to higher costs for brewers and distillers [8], raising the prospect of the wet winter increasing the price of a pint.

Tom Lancaster, land analyst at ECIU said, “Farmers are saying this is the worst winter they’ve ever experienced. Coming just as food prices were coming down after the gas price crisis, the public will now rightly fear what this means for the cost of their weekly shop. Given half our food comes from abroad, the UK will have to ensure farmers are supported here in the UK, but also in countries that grow the fruit and other staples we can’t, that are also being battered by weather extremes. With climate impacts only increasing as the world warms, we need to view this winter as a harbinger of things to come. Moving faster to net zero emissions is the only guaranteed way to limit these impacts and maintain our food security.”

Last November an ECIU commissioned report found that extreme weather had added £361 to the average food bill in the last two years [9]. The oilseed rape harvest this year is projected to be the hardest hit crop, down by 38% compared to 2023. Alongside massive climate price hikes for olive oil following back-to-back droughts in Spain, this has given rise to fears about the cost of cooking oil for domestic and commercial users [10].

Notes to editors:

1. Analysis of UK farm cropping plans and estimated impact of the wet winter on production:;


3. In a normal year, around 40% of the UK wheat harvest would be used for milling, to produce flour for bread, biscuits, cakes and other products. Around 50% is used for animal feed. The balance is used for seed, other uses or wasted. Milling wheat commands a price premium, as millers have higher quality requirements that entail higher costs for farmers. These requirements are harder to reach when the weather is bad, and when fertiliser costs are high as they still are following the gas price rises caused by the war in Ukraine.








For more information or for interview requests:

George Smeeton, Head of Communications, ECIU, Tel: 07894 571 153, email: