If heavy rain continues in the UK, crops will be planted at a point where they may become economically unviable, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has warned.

Senior analyst Helen Plant with the AHDB, which is the levy board which represents farmers, growers and others in the supply chain in Britain, said that farmers are heading to the point where spring-sown winter wheat varieties will not be able to develop sufficiently to provide a viable crop.

"There is a clear intention to plant more spring wheat, but the persistence of wet weather means there is uncertainty about whether this can be done.

"While the area of spring wheat is small in comparison to the total wheat area, any areas that can’t be planted would further reduce the total wheat area.

“All parts of the UK have suffered. The east Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber are reported as the worst affected, with notable flooding in these areas.

"Less severe impacts are reported for Scotland and southern England, where periods of less extreme rainfall seem to have allowed more planting to take place,” she said.

Cropping areas

At 1.4m hectares, the British wheat area is currently back 15% on 2023 levels, in what the AHDB has described as the biggest reduction in cropped areas since 2020.

The area planted to oilseed rape is down 28% to 280,000ha, the biggest reduction in 40 years, while the winter barley area is back 22% at 355,000ha. The spring barley area is up 29% to 881,000ha.


The AHDB outlined a number of potential impacts of the lower cropping areas:

  • The UK will need to import more wheat in the coming year (1 July 2024 to 30 June 2025) and potentially in 2025/26. Prices are already reflecting this.
  • Condition of crops is now a huge focus, with unfavourable weather putting the yield at risk of being significantly reduced.
  • Depending on what happens in this year’s harvest, the availability of straw could be reduced, spreading the impact throughout the agricultural sector.
  • Consumer price

    AHDB economics and analysis director David Eudall says if current market conditions continue, this may not influence consumer prices.

    “We may see wheat production fall from around 14m tonnes to around 10m tonnes or less, so wheat processors, flour millers and bakers will be looking to import greater quantities of wheat this season for production into bread and animal feed.

    “After seeing a period of heightened prices for cereals, the world market has now cooled off, as supplies are strong around the world and the impact of the Ukrainian conflict has been absorbed into supply chains.

    "So while we may need to import more, we’re doing this at a point currently where prices have fallen. These lower prices are one of the reasons we’ve seen food price inflation fall in recent months,” he said.

    Longer-term risk

    However, Eudall warned of a longer-term risk.

    “If we see continued lower production from poor weather, stubborn costs (eg fertiliser) and unprofitable prices, we will continually need more imports and further expose our market for a staple product in bread to the world trade.

    “A greater reliance on imports means that as global prices rise due to weather or geopolitics, UK food producers using wheat would need to pay a higher price to attract wheat into the country rather than having access to a locally available supply.

    "So while current market conditions are favourable to consumers, they are not supporting farmers who are facing lower incomes and higher costs.

    "If we see any gain in the global market through the coming season, it will be favourable for the bottom line of farmers, but we could see a return to inflationary prices for consumers,” he warned.