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Kennedy's Bakery Production Magazine | October 1, 2020

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Bread prices may rise after poor UK wheat harvest

Bread prices may rise after poor UK wheat harvest

The price of flour and bread is set to rise after what could be the worst UK wheat harvest in 40 years, the industry is warning. Farmers say that the extreme weather over the last year is likely to mean wheat yields are down by up to 40%.

As a result, some millers have already increased the price of flour by 10% and they warn a no-deal Brexit could push up prices even further and we're likely to see more of the same weather in future, experts say.

The UK Met Office told BBC News that the extremes of wet and hot conditions that have marked this year are likely to become more common as our climate continues to change. Wheat farmers have been hit with a triple-whammy of severe weather, according to the National Farmers' Union (NFU).

First off, unusually heavy rain in the autumn meant many farmers could not plant as much wheat as they usually would. What they did plant did not thrive in the waterlogged soil which was followed by the wettest February on record.

Storms Ciara and Dennis battered much of the UK in the early and middle of the month, causing widespread flooding. They were followed by Storm Jorge at the end of February.

Then we had the very hot and dry spring which caused droughts in many areas of the UK, making it hard for the crop to take up nutrients from the soil. Finally, the heavy rain this August meant many farmers have had to delay harvesting their crops.

"We're looking at a 30% reduction in our good fields, in some of our poor fields it's is even more", said Matt Culley, an arable farmer from Hampshire who is chair of the NFU's crop board.

Some of his grain stores are virtually empty where normally they would be full at this time of year.

He said much of the wheat that the rain has forced him to leave in the fields will only be fit for animal feed.

It is, said Mr Culley, the worst harvest in the 37 years he's been farming, with the most dramatic variation in the weather he has ever known.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, wheat imports could be liable for a £79 per tonne tariff, said the National Association of British and Irish Millers. This figure is derived from the World Trade Organization (WTO) standard tariff for wheat.

Wheat prices are always volatile, but this would represent a further 40% hike in wheat prices which, once again, would be likely to drive up the price of flour.