Crop output figures take some reading!

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This week’s publication of the 2017 crop output figures for Northern Ireland by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has elicited a somewhat puzzled response from the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Despite the very poor weather at harvest, the DAERA statistics indicate that wheat and oat yields actually increased, relative to 2016.

A UFU spokesman said: “The estimates for this year’s crop yields and production in 2017 make for interesting reading. Had it not been for the very difficult conditions experienced during the harvest period, it would have been a good year with yields across most cereal and potato crops having increased from 2016.”

According to DAERA, production of wheat increased from 2016 levels to 67,200 tonnes, an increase of 12 per cent. The area grown increased by 1 per cent to 8,700 hectares, therefore most of the increased production was achieved by an increase in yields to 7.7 tonnes per hectare. Last year wheat yields dipped to a relatively low level with the 2017 yield still below the level recorded for 2015.

Oat yields increased by five per cent to 5.6 tonnes per hectare in 2017 but has not returned to the level recorded in 2015. As the total area of oats planted has not changed since 2016, total estimated production has also increased by 5 per cent to 12,700 tonnes in 2017.

However, the DAERA figures confirm that this year’s barley harvest was badly impacted by the weather.

Total production of barley has decreased to approximately 114,400 tonnes, a fall of eight per cent. The overall area grown decreased by five per cent from 2016 levels, with the area of spring crops decreasing by five per cent and the area of winter crops decreasing by seven per cent.

This reduced area combined with the lower yield for spring barley of 4.7 tonnes per hectare has resulted in the lower production.

Winter barley yields were relatively unchanged from 2016 at 6.8 tonnes per hectare. Later harvesting due to adverse weather conditions would have had a detrimental effect on barley crop yields in 2017.

The estimates for cereal yields were obtained from a post-harvest survey of 235 growers.

Where potatoes are concerned, the DAERA figures are estimates only, generated pre-harvest. They point to a total output from maincrop ware and seed potatoes of 153,400 tonnes, representing an 18 per cent increase from 2016.

In 2017 the area planted in potatoes went up by eight per cent to 4,100ha while estimated yields increased by nine per cent. The total pre-harvest estimate, including early varieties also increased by 18 per cent to 155,000 tonnes.

The Union spokesperson commented: “We continue to watch the potato situation very closely. While the pre-harvest estimates show a 9% yield increase on 2016, we are aware that many crops are still in the ground. The prolonged wet weather has made harvesting extremely difficult. It won’t be until next year that we will get a clearer picture of potato yields.”

Provisional crop output figures for the UK as a whole indicate that yields of barley, wheat and oats have all increased, compared with 2016.