Did Climate Change Cause the UK’s Crop Production Drop?

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Did Climate Change Cause the UK’s Crop Production Drop?

The United Kingdom’s crop production for 2023 has declined in all its main cereals and rapeseed, also known as oilseed rape, according to a government year-end report.

GOV.UK data shows that all main crops saw a decline in yield in 2023 compared to 2022, with crop areas also falling except for barley, which saw an increase in areas in both winter and spring. Wheat harvest in 2023 is 14 million tonnes, a decrease of 10% from 2020 due to a reduction in yield (-5.2% decrease to 8.1 tonnes per hectare) and area (-5.1% decrease to 1.7 million hectares.5.2%).

Other cereals also saw a decline in yield compared to 2022 – Barley by 5.7% from 2022, Oats by 18%, and oilseed rape by 11%.

What has driven the decline is a combination of three factors: the decrease in yield in all its major crops, reduction in the planting area, and unseasonable wet conditions at the start of the harvest season and, in some areas, long periods of wet weather.

According to the report, in 2023, moisture content for many crops exceeded the 14.5% standards. In England, wheat was 15.1%, barley averaged 15%, and oats were 14.6%. Oilseed rape was 8.9%, just shy of the standard 9%.

The year prior, 2022, was good for UK farmers. The Guardian reports that British crop yields have increased despite cuts in fertilizer use. A slash in fertilizer application by more than a quarter in 2022 is mainly due to the high prices as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to the article, the price of fertilizers has increased more than three times.

The decline in fertiliser use is good for the environment and the climate. Fertiliser use is the leading cause of pollution of the UK’s inland waterbodies, accounting for 40%. Reduction in the farmer’s usage of fertilizer can also reduce nitrous oxide, a potent GHG, and opens up opportunities for farmers to try more nature-friendly methods such as mixed farming methods, which include livestock farming, the best way to return nutrients into the soil and decrease the use of synthetic fertilizers.

The future of farming

The government will be phasing farm subsidies to farmers who own or rent their lands. The government support of 1.6 billion will gradually decrease from 2025 until 2027, when it will totally phase out.

Payments for subsidies will go back to farmers on a different scheme under the Environmental Land Management scheme, where it will pay farmers for making sustainable and environmentally friendly actions like making steps to increase soil health and water quality, decrease emissions, and improve animal health and welfare through applying measures like planting over winter cover crops and encouraging hedgerows to grow out.

The Guardian reports that the UK’s wealthiest farmers benefit from these subsidies, such as the Duke of Westminster, the inventor James Dyson, racehorse owner Prince Khalid bin Abdullah al Saud and the Queen, who was still alive at the article’s writing. However, the removal of the subsidies could generate losses for small farmers who are dependent on them.

However, the article noted that the damage wrought by industrial farming to the UK’s environment since the 1960s could benefit nature and help fight climate change.

The video below exemplifies how 2023’s unusually wet weather in the UK impacted farmers financially.


Cereal and oilseed production in the United Kingdom 2023. (2023, December 21). Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/cereal-and-oilseed-rape-production/cereal-and-oilseed-production-in-the-united-kingdom-2023

Ahmed, N. (2023, July 28). British crop yields rise despite cut in fertiliser use, research finds. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jul/28/british-crop-yields-rise-despite-cut-in-fertiliser-use-research-finds

Carrington, D. (2020, November 30). Environment to benefit from ‘biggest farming shake-up in 50 years’. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/30/environment-to-benefit-from-biggest-farming-shake-up-in-50-years

Future of farming in England. (2023, November 22). Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/future-of-farming-in-england   

2023 harvest was a financial disaster so it’s all change for 2024 harvest. (2024, January). Harry’s Farm. . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEudP3Sa3uk

O’Carroll, L. (2023, December 29). ‘We’re only seeing the negative’: UK farmers on Brexit and losing the common agricultural policy. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/dec/29/uk-farmers-impact-brexit-trade-deal-losing-common-agricultural-policy

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