The National Union of Farmer’s president Peter Kendall recently said on the BBC’s Today Programme that cold weather had caused the average yield in Britain to drop from 7.8 metric tons (MT) a hectare to 6.7 MT last summer and could lead the UK to import more wheat than it produces.
Helen Plant, acting senior analyst, Cereals and Dairy at The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), said that on monthly terms. The UK had been a net importer since November last year.
The UK is forecast to import a total of 2.26 MT of wheat in the 2012/13 crop year, according to Defra, a UK government department. This compares to just 0.91 MT in the 2011/12 crop year and is the largest amount since 2001/02.
Sufficient global stocks?
How this will impact bakers is as yet unclear.
Gordon Polson, Director of the Federation of Bakers, told BakeryandSnacks.com: “It is too early to know what the impact will be. Wheat is a world commodity and it appears likely that there may be sufficient wheat from other parts of the world to satisfy UK needs.”
He said that it would largely depend on the North Hemisphere harvest, and added there was not the same price pressure as there was 12-18 months ago.
100% British wheat claims dropped
However, a company will now struggle to claim that it sources 100% British wheat on packaging or advertising.
“That claim has been dropped,” said Polson.
Hovis bread makers Premier Foods had been sourcing 100% British wheat for all its British bakeries since 2010, but announced in January this year that a poor UK harvest had forced it to use imported wheat.
Asked if losing the claim could damage consumer sentiment, Polson said: “It’s not hugely detrimental,” adding that as long as you don’t make false claims consumers would understand the reasons.
The amount imported so far this crop year is over three times it was last year. But what's more disquieting for UK bakers is that the quality of British produced wheat is declining due to the weather.
AHDB/HGCA 2012 Cereal Quality Survey found that the 2013 crop had the lowest specific weight in the survey’s history, which began in 1977.
Of the Group 1 samples surveyed in 2013 only 3% met a high quality bread wheat specification, compared to 40% in 2011.
"Luckily for us, other parts of the world had relatively good quality," said Plant.
The UK imports most of its wheat from Germany, France and Canada. Shipping costs are relatively low, but this is not a cost incurred when sourcing domestically.