Warning that the price of beer, bread and biscuits could rise

Farming conditions
Brussels sprouts are harvested in a flooded field at TH Clements and Son Ltd near Boston, Lincolnshire. -Credit:PA Wire/PA Images

After years of painfully high prices during the cost of living crisis, the cost of purchasing many common foodstuffs could increase later this year. Bread, beer, and biscuit prices look set to rise sharply after a wet winter's impact on crops across the country, according to new analysis by climate experts.

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) looked at crop area forecasts from the agriculture industry and Government yield data, finding that production of key crops like wheat, barley, oats, and oilseed rape might drop by four million tonnes compared to 2023 - a significant reduction of 17.5 per cent.

This comes after an exceptionally wet autumn led to reduced planting levels, and subsequent storms and flooding over the winter exacerbated losses for British farmers. The situation appears even more stark when considering the average production from 2015 to 2023, with potential declines exceeding five million tonnes or 21.2 per cent, the ECIU suggests.

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Tom Lancaster, a land analyst at the ECIU, has highlighted a "real risk" of price increases for bread, beer and biscuits if the poor harvest translates into higher costs for producers.

The alert was raised amidst signs that food prices were starting to ease after the recent surge in inflation driven by the global gas price crisis.

Wheat is among the crops facing the most severe forecasted decline, with the ECIU estimating a fall of over a quarter 26.5 per cent compared to last year's figures, particularly impacting milling wheat which is used in bread production and requires higher quality standards that may be challenging to meet due to the adverse weather conditions.

Last week, the chief of Associated British Foods one of the UK's largest bread producers, which owns brands such as Kingsmill and Ryvita issued a warning about potential price hikes if the increased cost of domestic grains isn't balanced by larger harvests overseas.

The persistent wet weather is causing issues for the planting of spring crops like barley, which could result in higher costs for brewers and distillers, potentially leading to more expensive pints, according to the ECIU. Colin Chappell, a Lincolnshire arable farmer and member of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), expressed his concerns: "It's had a massive impact on us."

"We went through the winter with virtually nothing viable drilled, and while it's now dry enough to plant some fields some of them are so bad I don't think they'll get drilled this year. The situation is very hit and miss."

This news comes as the National Farmers' Union (NFU) has recently highlighted that extreme weather is one of the most significant threats to food security in the UK. As the climate warms, the kind of warmer, wetter winters experienced this past year are expected to become more common.

Mr Lancaster said: "To withstand the wetter winters that will come from climate change, farmers need more support."

He emphasised the importance of the Government's green farming initiatives, which are crucial in aiding farmers to invest in their soils, enhancing recovery from both floods and droughts. With half of British food being imported, Mr Lancaster pointed out that it's essential for the Government to ensure that farmers, both domestically and internationally, receive adequate support.

"Moving faster to net zero emissions is the only guaranteed way to limit these impacts and maintain our food security," he added.

Mr Chappell has expressed that the Government's new Sustainable Farming Incentive is crucial for the survival of his farm in the years ahead.

"The climate is making farming on heavy clay soils like mine very difficult and quite demoralising," he further commented.

William Kendall, an East Anglian farmer and the entrepreneur who developed Green & Blacks into a renowned chocolate brand, stated: "Regenerative farming methods, when properly followed, greatly enhance the soil's capacity to hold water and therefore prevent saturation and run-off at times of prolonged heavy rainfall.

"Not only does this mean better crops, produced at a lower cost for the farmer, but it ensures that the chances of the flash flooding downstream we have seen this winter are greatly diminished."

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, remarked: "Since the pandemic, managing the cost of doing business for brewers and pubs, including dealing with an overall increasing tax burden, has proven more difficult than usual

"This year's prolonged rain and the effect that it may have on the winter harvest is yet another unexpected cost factor.

"Brewers and pubs will strive to absorb some of these costs, but with margins at historical lows, if it cannot be avoided, some costs will have to be passed on, underlining the urgency for the government to set out a long-term fiscal and regulatory framework that will ensure that the beer and pub sector does not just survive, but thrives."

A Government spokesperson stated: "We have protected over 900,000 acres of agricultural land from the impacts of flooding since 2015, and are investing £5.6 billion to better protect communities from flooding and coastal erosion.

"We have opened the Farming Recovery Fund, which provides grants of up to £25,000 to eligible farmers affected by Storm Henk. We continue to keep the weather situation and the subsequent impact on the 2024 harvest under close review."