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BBC Blame Dire Wheat Harvests On Climate Change

August 27, 2020

By Paul Homewood


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.

That 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.

Weather extremes

A spokesperson for the Met Office explained: "UK climate projections show a trend towards hotter and drier summers and warmer, wetter winters."


In fact, the major reason for the lower harvest this year is that farmers opted to plant less wheat last autumn, and instead concentrate on spring barley instead:



Sharp year-on-year drops in wheat production are not uncommon in the UK, and usually for similar reasons as this year:


And ironically last year, which the Met Office ludicrously described as extreme, cereal yields jumped to near record highs:


But what about the weather this time around?

Well, last autumn was wetter than average, but nowhere near the wettest on record:


And neither was the winter:

And this spring was not the driest either:

As for this month, preliminary data suggests it will be drier than average. Looking at the long term trend, wet Augusts were much more of a problem in past decades:


In short, the weather has been far from ideal in the last 12 months as far as farming is concerned, but there is not the slightest evidence that this is part of a longer term trend.

  1. Ian Magness permalink
    August 27, 2020 7:33 pm

    Another classic piece of Homewood factual evisceration of media climate nonsense. One day you’ll get the recognition for this that you deserve Paul – but we could all be pushing up the daisies by then I fear. In the meantime, more power to your elbow.

  2. Phillip Bratby permalink
    August 27, 2020 7:55 pm

    I don’t know what Justin Rowlatt did to become the BBC’s Chief Environment Correspondent. He knows nothing about the subject, but then that is normal for the BBC. I guess the more propaganda about climate change you create, the higher up in the organisation you get. No wonder the BBC is losing its audience and is becoming a laughing stock.

    • August 27, 2020 10:13 pm

      What is dire is the BBC’s comedy climate reporting.

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      August 28, 2020 10:57 am

      Isn’t he the guy who went all “green” a couple of decades ago on the BBC’s behalf for one of its “spoonfeed the sheeple” magazine programmes. Typical patronising guff I seem to remember.

      As an aside, I’ve just started reading Lomborg’s ‘False Alarm’. He’s spot on with his assessment of the damage the media (and some scientists) are doing by only quoting the extreme downside without any attempt to account for either human ingenuity or adaptation. Or even, as the BBC does consistently, be highly selective with the facts.

      But even he cannot shake off the ‘CO2 causes global warming’ meme. He starts one paragraph with “We have known for more than a century that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will lead to higher temperatures”. Not what I was taught!

    • August 28, 2020 2:28 pm

      They have lost 30% of their audience in the last 6 years.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        August 28, 2020 10:13 pm

        It’s when they lose 30% of their licence payers that they may take some notice.

  3. Tonyb permalink
    August 27, 2020 8:19 pm

    If I could just get out of the door for the rain for a few minutes I can tell you whether or not the summer is getting drier. Looks like there might be a drier window at the weekend for the first time in a week so that might be a good opportunity

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      August 28, 2020 11:07 am

      While here in Burgundy this morning’s 10mm has been greeted with cries of “more! more!” We have had six weeks with the grand total of 14mm of rain and temperatures rarely below 20° overnight and never below 32° at maximum.

      I think it’s called summer! According to locals it’s pretty much like 2003 which was 17 years ago. Now where did I see that pattern before ….. 1947-1963-1981-1996-2010. But that was winter in the UK of course!

  4. David Parker permalink
    August 27, 2020 8:36 pm

    “In fact, the major reason for the lower harvest this year is that farmers opted to plant less wheat last autumn, and instead concentrate on spring barley instead:” Paul I admire everything you do on this site, I feel I must add a little to the above. I, like many other farmers, only opted to drill Spring Barley because we were unable to drill a full complement of Winter Wheat as a result of the wet weather, this happens about one a decade or so. It was not the total of rain that was the main problem, although it was high, but that fact that it rained so regularly that the land did not dry sufficiently between rains to drill Wheat, so we only achieved 40% of planned area; however that 40% yielded very well, harvested in glorious weather.

    • calnorth permalink
      August 28, 2020 9:21 am

      I follow two Agri farmers on Youtube…through the year. Both are in and around the Cotswolds. There are others elsewhere of course. You can see them dodge around the weather and pests in the region at various times. I also monitor “wet weather” pounding its way up over Ireland to Glasgow often. Some of that will flair out into the Midlands/NW from the Western Approaches. Its a known constant occurrence with huge variability properties arising from the Atlantic Ocean…no known behavioural control. BBC babble = useless

      Harry’s Farm (is an ex motoring journalist of the past with classic cars/bikes)
      it’s a farming life for me (young chap/family managing 3 farms)

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      August 28, 2020 11:18 am

      I think you prove the point, David. You plant what will grow. As do I in my vegetable plot. There is no point in growing runner beans (cries of ‘shame!’) because it’s too hot. Ditto turnips, apparently!

      Last year’s sweet corn was excellent; this year’s is rubbish. Vice versa with the aubergines. None of which matters to me but it does to you because it’s your livelihood and BBC reporters don’t have a clue — not even “green man” Rowlatt. And largely, as someone said, because his next salary cheque depends on his not having a clue!

    • charlie flindt permalink
      August 28, 2020 2:45 pm

      Yup, David. Our host has got this bit totally wrong. (See my post below)

  5. Harry Davidson permalink
    August 27, 2020 8:45 pm

    Those who monitor the jetstream will know that it was well to the north of us earlier in the summer and we had very hot weather in consequence. Since then it has been largely due west, powerful and making landfall at about the latitude of the Cotswolds. Hence, high winds, lots of rain, not very warm, and sod all Test Match cricket. It might track north later in September in which case we will probably get a warm dry spell, but it’s too early to be sure. The jetstream is never a rock solid forecast, but it’s good indication of the possible types of weather in the next two weeks.

    It has always done this, it’s called English weather.

    • September 6, 2020 1:33 pm

      What’s changed is the length of time the jet stream stays in any one configuration. It now stays put (with the UK stuck in either a U or omega loop) much longer. The reasons for this are not fully understood but it is believed to be related to Arctic amplification. This is the phenomenon where the Arctic is warming at 2 to 3 times the rate of the global average, which is in turn due to decreased albedo of the earth’s surface where the ice has retreated over the last few decades. The reduction of the differential between the temperatures North and South of the jet stream affects it’s dynamics, probably leading to longer wet spells and longer warm spells.

      If you would like to find out more there’s an excellent free online course by Exeter University called Climate Change: The Science.

      • September 6, 2020 7:20 pm

        There is no evidence of the jet stream changes you claim.

        You should not confuse alarmist mantra with facts

  6. August 27, 2020 8:45 pm

    One thing your article exposes is the emotional manipulation the BBC is resorting to in its use of language. A factual article’s headline might say “BREAD PRICE MAY RISE AFTER REDUCED WHEAT HARVEST”. However that was not the headline. It used the scary word “DIRE”.

    One of the few real freedoms we have in life is the freedom to control our own emotions. Frightening headlines and the frightening articles which follow them seek to usurp that control, to the benefit of the author of the emotional manipulation. Paul, you provide a valuable service by introducing the facts that reveal the journalists’ strategy of marketing fear.

  7. john cooknell permalink
    August 27, 2020 9:26 pm

    I laughed out loud when I saw Justin say all this on TV, what a classic idiot he is.

    I have never known a year when some farmers aren’t complaining about something to do with the weather, they often want wet and dry on adjoining fields.

    The farmer in the fields around my house seemed to manage with waterlogged ground, flooding and a dry spring and still get a good crop planted and harvested before the August monsoon set in, ever was it so.

    My Dad used to show his vegetables and flowers at the August Bank Holiday horticultural show, most years the tent was surrounded by very wet ground and mud.

  8. Thomas Carr permalink
    August 27, 2020 9:30 pm

    I’ve not kept up with crop yields as reported in Farmers Weekly for a while. David Parker’s first hand comments above are therefor helpful. Paul did say some time ago that crop yields worldwide were still increasing. It may not all be malting barley or milling wheat but for the BBC to resort to predictions of bread price inflation is pretty desperate.
    In the past we resorted to buying hard wheat from Canada and South Australia as our own was only good for biscuits.

  9. Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
    August 27, 2020 9:43 pm

    Farmers have to be ahead of the curve that the reporters are following.

    Much (most?) of the wheat in North America has been harvested with good results in all categories. Northern Durum is the laggard as of Aug.14th.
    Wheat – staff of life

  10. yonason permalink
    August 27, 2020 10:42 pm

    The REAL reason for decreased wheat productivity…

    Blasted aliens! //s//

  11. August 27, 2020 11:03 pm

    AFAIK generally British bread i not made from British wheat
    We export our wheat and import a different type of wheat to make bread.

    • StephenP permalink
      August 28, 2020 8:16 am

      There are three varieties of wheat grown in the UK, mostly Autumn sown.
      Bread wheat, known as hard wheat
      Biscuit wheat, known as soft wheat
      Feed wheat (for animal feed)
      They differ in the amount and type of protein which affects the quality for the end use.
      The Canadian wheat that used to be grown for the UK market was/is mostly spring wheat with a high protein content.
      One difference between the UK and Canadian wheats is in the selenium content which is higher in the Canadian wheat. This has been an important source of selenium in the UK diet.

    • David Parker permalink
      August 28, 2020 8:28 am

      “AFAIK generally British bread is not made from British wheat” – FYI of the wheat that goes into bread in the UK in the order of 80% is home grown in most years.

      • Mikehig permalink
        August 28, 2020 3:17 pm

        Maybe the question should be what is the origin of bread in Britain? What share of the market does home-produced bread have (using mainly home-grown wheat)?
        According to Statista we imported £2.1bn of bread, cakes, biscuits, wafers and pastries last year. That sounds like a lot to me but I have no idea of the overall market.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      August 28, 2020 8:50 am

      See the Corn Laws! Not sure about content but the price of wheat is set by global yields not UK harvests.

  12. dearieme permalink
    August 27, 2020 11:57 pm

    Lockdown has deprived us of our favourite bread so we’ve tried a variety of supermarket loaves instead. They’ve varied from dull to dire. It’s a miracle that anyone bothers buying such rubbish.

    I trust that a good crop of barley means that our supplies of beer and whisky will flourish.

    Where was I? Ah yes, the Beeb. Lying bastards the lot of ’em.

  13. August 28, 2020 1:34 am

    “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.
    That 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”

    Brilliant! Thanks.

    • August 28, 2020 5:03 am

      What I mean is that this post is a brilliant response to the climate change obsessed analysis quoted above.

  14. August 28, 2020 3:37 am

    I’ll grant the solar minimum causes climate change, albeit temporarily, but I doubt EC agriculture policy is affected by CO2. Not sure which is the more catastrophic.

    • August 28, 2020 9:21 am

      Actually the more CO2 the better as far as plants are concerned but then they must understand biological processes and physics, unlike Humanities graduates…

  15. I_am_not_a_robot permalink
    August 28, 2020 7:15 am

    What a silly desperate-sounding article.
    Do the idiots at the BBC genuinely believe that the weather just over the UK can be regulated to suit by building more wind mills⸮
    Global crop yields have more than kept pace with population over extended time, climate change™ notwithstanding.

  16. Ian Wilson permalink
    August 28, 2020 8:18 am

    The straw supplier to our equestrian business confirms yields per acre (all right, per hectare if we must!) are indeed poor this year but we regard this as part of normal weather variation, not climate change.

    You may be interested to know our records show hay yields over the last five years are 14.4% higher than over the five years 2000 – 2004 for the same fields and fertiliser application. This correlates well, perhaps flukishly so, with the 14% improvement in food output widely attributed to the modest increase in CO2 levels in recent years, surely cause for celebration with 6 million more mouths to feed every month.

  17. August 28, 2020 9:20 am

    “UK climate projections show”…

    So what?

  18. MrGrimNasty permalink
    August 28, 2020 9:21 am

    I posted a lot of info on this here:

    NIAB says UK yields are remarkably consistent in the face of varying weather/climate.

    Yields are pretty normal so far this year, only lower compared to some EXCEPTIONAL HIGH yields in the last few years in the face of supposed climate change.

    Once the current wet spell has gone, the 2 week outlook is pretty dry/average temps for most areas so undoubtedly the remaining 40% of the wheat yet to be harvested will be OK.

    The price of wheat is forecast to be the same in Jan 2021 as it was in 2020 – and last year was a good UK harvest – so where is the price link to UK production! Typically 85% of flour is made from homegrown wheat and the deficit imported from Germany/France/Canada sometimes E.Europe.

  19. August 28, 2020 9:39 am

    Think on all this nonsense. According to the BBC this years supposedly poor havest is caused by climate change. So what about last years? Their lack of respect for their audience and total ideological obsession is no longer funny but is deadly serious and needs to be stopped.

    Actually the biggest lie of all constantly promoted by the Warmist Doom mongers is that warm is bad. But based on what evidence?

    This flies totally in the face of geological AND human historical evidence. ALL that happens during a warm period is that the climatic regions migrate north and south making wider climatic zones. In our case pushing that damned cold coming from the North away albeit temporarily currently.

    Warm is why Skara Brea was inhabited and cold forced it to be uninhabited. Warm is why the Vikings were able to set up a viable colony in Greenland and cold killed it off. Warm is a time of plenty.

    Physics tells us when it is warmer the difference between the hottest and coldest temperatures decrease. That difference is where the energy for storms comes from.

    Cold periods are not fun at all being dryer and more stormy oh and lots of famine. I spend a lot of time in my job looking for climate cycles in the subsurface formations. I am looking at because warm means more sediment movement due to more water and cold means less.
    Warm is good, warm means LESS storm intensity, more CO2 is good because plants grow larger faster and use less water.

    What is being disseminated in the media is diametrically opposed to what is actually happening. Think for a moment on that.
    It was Orwell who said “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act”.

  20. Harry Davidson permalink
    August 28, 2020 9:41 am

    The Guardian says it might be the coldest August Bank Holiday on record. Are they allowed to report that sort of stuff? I’m sure the police should step in here.

    • C Lynch permalink
      August 28, 2020 9:55 am

      Don’t worry they’ll still blame it on CAGW.

  21. August 28, 2020 10:00 am

    Climate change? Well, they are right – except the cause is not CO2 rather the Grand Solar Minimum we are sinking into. Innit.

  22. dave permalink
    August 28, 2020 10:12 am

    The NHS is clearly in perpetual “go slow” and “work to rule” (as the Communist wrecking tactics used to be called); and the state schools are to be run henceforth in a ”health and safety” manner well calculated to damage childrens’ mental state without teaching them anything at all.

    The price of bakery pap seems the least of worries.

  23. Ben Vorlich permalink
    August 28, 2020 10:52 am

    In Paul’s graph there is nothing for oats, in the 1950s and 1960s in Perthshire a lot of oats were grown. Oats had long been the cereal of choice in Scotland* as it was suited to the climate, presumably they were also grown in the North of England for the same reason. It would be interesting to know how the oat crop has changed.

    *Is Johnson’s quip about Scots, Horses and oats now non-PC and upsetting to the woke generation?

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      August 28, 2020 1:32 pm

      Any supposed climate change does not seem to be putting farmers off, seems to have hit the limit of what the market can consume.

      “UK oat production[2019] looks set to be the highest since 1973. Oats inclusions in the rotation have increased in recent years to control the threat of grassweeds. But increased oat acreage in the UK is a challenge for the domestic market. UK demand for oats is finite. If the UK harvests around 1Mt of oats this year then UK oats will need to find an export market in the face of challenging tariffs.The English and Scottish oat area for harvest 2019/20 is estimated at 178Kha, up 8% on the year (AHDB Planting and Variety Survey). If we achieve a five year average yield then oat production will top 1Mt for the first time since 1973.”

      However, the weather has impacted this year, to some extent.

      “For the 2020 harvest we think nationally no more than 60% of the intended winter oat plantings got in the ground. One thing the Oat Millers dread is a surge in the spring planting of Mascani seed; this is thought to be a major factor in producing samples which do not de-hull properly on delivery. However, the weather through Jan and Feb will have prevented most of these situations and the market is going to be very reliant on the performance of the true spring crops especially Elyann. Provided the spring crop gets a reasonable run of weather and avoids a summer drought, the total acreage of oats going in this year looks to be more than sufficient to meet demand.”

      Only about 20% harvested so far, so 2020 outcome unknown. Normal yield is 5-6t/ha, estimate this year is 4.5-5.5t/ha, so probably at the very lower end of normal.

  24. Tim Palmer permalink
    August 28, 2020 12:59 pm

    As a farmer of 40 years standing with a scientific background, I applaud the good sense of many of the comments here. I am afraid that I am one of those that used to trust the BBC and has now lost all faith in their objectivity or even a basic understanding of their subject. With Justin Rowlatt, an Oxford PPE graduate who got the Green Religion a few years ago, the lack of basic understanding of his brief may be understandable though inexcusable. What is more surprising is his lack of grasp of the economics (as someone above mentioned). Wheat is a global commodity whose price is determined by supply and demand. In recent years, the price of wheat, normally around £150/tonne, has risen as high as £200/t on a threat of excess global demand over supply. Even Justin should be able to work out that a £50/t increase in the price of wheat is equivalent to 5p on the price of a 1kg loaf of bread, not exactly earth-shattering. In some years a shortfall in UK milling wheat is down to low quality, in some years down to reduced planting, both being weather-dependent and as anyone can see from the Met Office plots that Paul puts up, the year on year variation in weather far outweighs any long-term trends, even if they exist. So farmers will continue to work with the weather, markets will continue to react to global stimuli, the price of bread will stay more or less where it is all other factors being equal and Justin Rowlatt will continue to be an ignorant, overpaid BBC eco-pratt.

  25. August 28, 2020 2:30 pm

    BBC miss out bumper harvests, worldwide, year on year.

  26. Charlie Flindt permalink
    August 28, 2020 2:36 pm

    Er, hold on a minute. I am a wheat farmer in Hampshire, and no way did I, or any of my neighbours, ‘opt’ not to gow wheat. We plannned to sow it, but were forced to change our plans. The rain started here on 21st Sept, and continued, almost continuously until 21st March – a spooky equinox to equinox. I mananged to get about 70 acres of milling wheat in instead of the planned 300 acres or so, and the rest of the seed is still in the back of the barn.Yes, we all switched much of the acreage to spring barley – hence the glut of it this year – but it was certainly a weather-induced decision. Just thought you ought to know.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      August 28, 2020 2:56 pm

      No one disputes it was weather dictated do they? But you did ‘opt’ according to the circumstances!

      • charlie flindt permalink
        August 28, 2020 3:06 pm

        No, I didn’t opt. I had no choice. ‘Opt’ is choosing. .

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        August 28, 2020 8:05 pm

        We’re getting a bit hung up on semantics here. Opt just means making a choice from a range of possibilities. It does not require all choices to be equally sensible or viable – but of course that will probably determine which choice you opt for.

        ‘exercise your discretion in favour of’
        ‘choose a plan or method’

        You opted for a contingency plan because of the weather.

        I didn’t read it the way you have, but then I was aware the weather was unfavorable. Only PH knows what he intended. I honestly don’t think he meant you just fancied a change!

      • Charlie Flindt permalink
        August 28, 2020 8:32 pm

        Except that PH says:
        “In fact, the major reason for the lower harvest this year is that farmers opted to plant less wheat last autumn, and instead concentrate on spring barley instead” straight after quoting the BBC’s claim that bad weather is the reason. He is saying, therefore, that the farmers’ ‘opting’ is separate from the weather. I should get out more. (Or I would if a. my combine hadn’t broken down and b. it wasn’t pouring with rain.)

      • August 28, 2020 10:13 pm

        Don’t be pathetic!

        I was simply relaying what DEFRA had reported.

        “With the extremely wet weather in Autumn 2019, many farmers made the switch to spring sown crops”

        In other words, the reduced harvest will be mainly due to a switch in crops, and not fall in yields.

  27. Gerry, England permalink
    August 28, 2020 2:36 pm

    Two Tories have introduced a suite of 3 private members bills aimed at bringing the BBC to heel. It is unlikely that they will become law unless there is government support. Boris will have to ask his toothy bird if he is allowed to support it which is unlikely.

  28. August 28, 2020 9:50 pm

    “In fact, the major reason for the lower harvest this year is that farmers opted to plant less wheat last autumn, and instead concentrate on spring barley instead”

    “opted” is not the right word: because of the rainy autumn here in France too, many farmers were ***forced*** to wait for spring to sow. Hence here too, most choose barley but this year we also tried mustard (failed), oat (not bad) and lentil (failed).

  29. It doesn't add up... permalink
    August 28, 2020 11:36 pm

    A number of interesting charts on global wheat supply, demand, stocks, condition here showing record supply and healthy stocks

    Wheat prices in the US markets that are global benchmarks have risen a little, but are way below the peak in 2008 when I used to joke that “Uncle Ben’s (Bernanke of the US Fed) long grain, rice” when the Fed was pumping money via the banks into commodities in the aftermath of the financial crisis, creating a bubble that soon burst. There was a period of much more genuine market tightness in 2011/12, but there is no sign of market panic now.

    (select MAX view on the chart that goes back to 1968, and remember these are not inflation adjusted figures!)

  30. It doesn't add up... permalink
    August 29, 2020 12:21 am

    Perhaps I should add that around me the combines worked through the night to get the wheat and barley in before the weather turned. I was amazed at how well parts of one field that runs along the river, and were duly flooded for lengthy periods, actually recovered rather than simply drowning. The barley field further downstream was more driven by the flooding. The sunny spring – eating out on the patio was frequent – helped with growth, and the hot spell turned the crops golden rapidly. OTOH maize grown as an energy crop, and usually harvested much later, has been battered by the storms. Little sign of damage to the polytunnels where fruit and veg are grown – perhaps almost remarkably, but in reality they haven’t had to deal with anything over 50mph gusts, which can be noisy and bring down some branches and rotting trees.

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