Wheat yields down 12% in 2020

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Artificial Intelligence has been used to identify a reduction in winter sown crops. This could decrease wheat, barley and oat yields by 12%, 5% and 5% respectively vs. 2019.

Last Autumn parts of the UK saw twice the average seasonal rainfall. This was followed by some of the worst winter floods in memory. A poll by Farmer’s Weekly asked farmers if 2019 was, weather-wise, the worst ever: 81% said it was.

Anecdotal evidence suggests drilling was delayed on many farms, especially in the North and Midlands. But what was the impact been on crop production?

Agrimetrics have developed Artificial Intelligence (AI) capable of identifying crops using only satellite observations. This can be done as early in the year as April, though accuracy increases as the season progresses and crops become more easily distinguishable.

Agrimetrics used their AI to calculate the proportion of winter crops currently growing in a sample of UK fields. They then compared this to levels from 2017 to 2019.

“We’ve discovered that there is 61% less winter wheat growing in the UK vs. last year,” says Professor Richard Tiffin, Agrimetrics’ Chief Scientific Officer. “And there was 45% less winter barley.”

Average differences in yields between winter and spring sown crops were then used to estimate a difference in yield.

“A rough estimation would suggest that 2020’s wheat harvest will be 12% lower than in 2019,” continues Professor Tiffin. “Barley is likely to be down 5%.”

Agrimetrics are keen to emphasise that their calculation is only based on a sample of fields and their AI is not 100% accurate, especially this early in the season. However, they are confident that the trend observed is correct and that their AI is the most accurate currently available.

“These numbers are significant enough to impact the UK’s domestic food supply,” concludes Professor Tiffin. “80% of the grain used by UK millers comes from UK farms – and 95% of that is winter wheat. Millers are going to have to look to overseas suppliers, which isn’t ideal in the current climate.”

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