BBC: Bread price may rise after worst UK wheat harvest in 40 years

28 August 20203 min reading

The price of flour and bread is set to rise after what could be the worst UK wheat harvest in 40 years, BBC reports. 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.

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 UK had the very hot and dry spring which caused droughts in many areas of the country, 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.

Only about 40% of the usual amount of wheat crop was planted last October due to heavy rain, while crops being harvested now are very poor quality due to droughts earlier in the season followed by lots of August rain, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) said.

Since 85% of the wheat used for flour is grown in the UK, flour millers will have to make up the shortages caused by this year's dire harvest with imports. And, because the price of wheat has been increasing steadily since the summer, the price of flour will rise, says Alex Waugh who runs the National Association of British and Irish Millers. He says wheat prices are already up by £40 a tonne - an increase of more than 20%. Because the margins millers operate on are very tight, they will have no choice but to pass some of this increase on to consumers by raising prices. "It's reached the point where we can't afford to keep selling flour at the price that we are," Paul Munsey of Wessex Mill in Oxfordshire told BBC News. He has already increased the price of his flour by 12% and warns there may be further price rises to come.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, wheat imports could be liable for a £79 per tonne tariff, said the National Association of British and Irish Millers. This figure is derived from the World Trade Organization (WTO) standard tariff for wheat. Wheat prices are always volatile, but this would represent a further 40% hike in wheat prices which, once again, would be likely to drive up the price of flour. And when the price of flour rises, you can expect the price of bread to rise a little - as well as the price of biscuits, pastries and cakes. BBC

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