U.K. Farmers Face Seed Shortage as Spring Planting Set to Surge

Farmers in the U.K. are facing a shortage of seeds as planting of spring crops is set to surge, after record rainfall last year in England muddied fields and left less land available to be sown with winter crops.

Farmers are paying about 30 percent more than usual for spring seeds as rising demand has led to shortages of domestic supplies and spurred an increase of imports, said David Neale, a business development manager at Andoversford, England-based farm adviser Agrii. As much as 20 percent of U.K. fields intended for winter crops including wheat and rapeseed last autumn went unplanted because of excess rain, leaving that ground now available to be sown with oilseed and grain, he said.

“We pretty much exhausted some time ago supplies of U.K.- produced seed, and there’s been massive imports of seed from Germany, France and eastern Europe,” Neale said in a telephone interview today. “Spring barley planting will have a big increase, and spring wheat, and there will be some increase in spring rapeseed and other minor crops” including peas and linseed, he said.

Feed-wheat futures for May delivery rallied to a record 230 pounds ($357) a metric ton on NYSE Liffe in London in November. Last year’s wheat harvest was 13.3 million metric tons, 13 percent less than the previous season, as excess rain slashed yields, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said. The U.K. had its second-wettest year ever last year, while England, the biggest wheat-growing region, was the rainiest on records dating to 1910, according to the Met Office, the national forecaster.

Total Wheat

Total wheat area in Great Britain was already expected to decline by 12 percent from last season to 1.76 million hectares (4.3 million acres), according to a survey from the Andersons Centre that was distributed by the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board in November. Planting may be even smaller than that because moisture persisted in December and January, Jack Watts, a senior analyst at the AHDB, said in an interview Feb. 13.

Even some fields that farmers did manage to plant last year may need to be re-sown with spring varieties, after flooding washed out crops in some areas and young plants were attacked by slugs. Fifteen to 20 percent of winter rapeseed fields planted last winter may not make it through the spring, Neale said.

Largest Crop

Winter wheat, the U.K.’s largest arable crop, is usually planted beginning in September. The grain goes dormant during winter and is harvested from July. Spring crops are sown from February and harvested in August. Winter wheat, which tends to yield more than spring crops, usually accounts for more than 95 percent of the grain used by millers in the country, according to the National Association of British and Irish Millers.

The majority of fields planted this spring probably will be sown with barley crops, said Neale, who expects seeding of the grain to jump 40 percent from last year. Spring varieties accounted for about 56 percent of all barley production in the U.K. last year, according to Defra.

Barley seed for spring planting currently costs about 500 pounds ($774) a ton, about 150 pounds a ton more expensive than in a normal year, Neale said.

“We’ll see a notable increase in spring planting,” said Watts, from Kenilworth, England-based AHDB’s Home-Grown Cereals Authority. “Spring planting in the U.K. is normally constrained by the amount of land available. Now we’ve got plenty of land available but we may be constrained by the availability of seed.”

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