WORD ON THE GROUND Who will go hungry this year? By Tony Gent Cereals grower and poultry breeder

Cereals grower Tony Gent.
Cereals grower Tony Gent.
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AT the time of writing we are approximately half way through our winter wheat harvest.

The weather is hot and sunny, the crop is coming off dry and we should all be happy, but there is one big problem: the yields are dreadfully low, more like yield we used to see 30 or 40 years ago.

This is a year where you could sow the best varieties, use the most sophisticated cultivation technique, use lots of fertiliser and the best spray protection programme, but the weather during the so-called summer has been so bad at the wrong time it has devastated the yields.

The main problem has been very wet and dull days during the flowering period.

There is some variation and it seems to be a matter of luck more than anything we can relate to.

We think the variation is due to different drilling dates, variety timing and the weather during the time of flowering.

The thicker, lusher crops that looked extremely promising now seem to be the most affected.

Normally, when we have bad weather, as the crop matures we see what we call lodging, basically the crop being knocked over, sometimes flat on the ground.

At first we could not understand why this was not happening this year, but then we realised the ears were so light with so little grain fill they were not being dragged down by the weight of the developing grain.

Poor quality and yields has happened over most of the UK, but as a supply of wheat for animal feed and baking a poor UK crop does not make a very big difference.

The major problem causing concern is the record drought in the main grain growing areas of the United States.

Indeed, in most of the northern hemisphere major producing regions have had extreme weather during this growing season, resulting in problems for crops.

As you would expect, prices are increasing dramatically and obviously this will lead to some higher food costs.

But for most foods using cereals the cost of the raw material is a relatively small part of the price you pay in the shop.

What about the fact that much less is going to be produced this year and who is going to go hungry? This as always will impact on the less well-off parts of the world that are at the bottom of the economic structure of world trade.

We will grumble about things costing a bit more, but to some in less fortunate parts of the world it could be a matter of food or no food.