The wet summer could send food prices rocketing but will certainly lead to an increase in the costs for farmers this winter.
That was the dire warning from farming groups and the British Retail Consortium, who warned that a double whammy of a wet summer in Britain, coupled with a devastating drought in the United States, will send prices up in the supermarket aisles.
Grain harvests in Britain are poor this year because of the rain, and the lack of much sunshine has hit the West’s dairy industry too – silage grown in the wet, cloudy conditions will be of poorer quality and farmers could be faced with a hefty bill to continue to feed their livestock later on this winter.
That bill will be even higher because of the effects of the worst drought in 50 years in the US, and a heatwave in Russia, so feed prices, food prices and everything from bread to cheese could cost more in the shops within months.
Wheat yields fell 14.1 per cent this year to levels last seen in the late 1980s, according to the NFU, because of an average of 14 inches of rain falling in June, July and August – the wettest summer for 100 years.
And it won’t just be the price of a loaf that is affected, the cost of feed for poultry farmers, pig farmers and dairy farmers will rise, pushing up the price of virtually every British-made foodstuff in the supermarkets.
Guy Gagen, NFU chief combinable crops adviser, said wheat yields were down after abnormally high rainfall across the UK since the early summer.
“The poor UK harvest compounds a series of challenging weather events for farmers around the world, most notably drought in North America,” he said.
“The resulting tight supplies of many feed grains have driven up the prices of agricultural commodities around the world.
“These UK harvest results will do little to alleviate the global dynamics of commodity prices.
“Cereals prices impact directly on other sectors, especially pig and poultry farmers who are already struggling with higher feed costs.”
West poultry farmers will be hit hard by the rising cost of feed. Their spokesman Peter Bradnock said: “The costs of wheat, soyameal and corn – which are the key feed ingredients for the poultry industry and a number of other sectors – have increased significantly this year.
“For several months we have warned that British poultry producers are under real pressure from global factors and are pleased that the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has accepted this will lead to a rise in shop prices.
“If consumers are to continue to enjoy the secure supply of British poultry, food prices need to accurately reflect cost increases.”
Richard Dodd, of the BRC, said: “There certainly are price pressures in the system which are coming from poor wheat harvests.”
And the wet, cloudy summer is also hitting Britain’s fledgling wine industry – one of the biggest producers announced yesterday it wasn’t even going to bother producing a 2012 vintage, because the harvest had been so poor that the wine would be low quality.