The first official estimate of winter cereal plantings for the 2018 harvest points to a further decline in the winter cereal area with more land devoted to oilseed rape and spring cereals. Pulse crop plantings could be 6% lower.

The provisional estimates which were compiled by the Andersons Centre consultancy with the help of AICC agronomists, are published by the AHDB as its Earlybird Survey. The AHDB says the latest survey covers 475,000 hectares, 79% more than previous iterations.

The survey records a 1.752 million hectare wheat crop, 2% down on the Defra wheat area figure for the 2017 harvest and the fourth consecutive annual decline in plantings, bringing it 3% below the five year average. The total figure includes spring wheat land, which respondents indicate is set to increase for 2018.

The survey products a 9% fall in the winter barley area, while spring barley planting increases by a further 3% to 773,000ha. The AHDB says this would be the highest spring barley area in a ‘normal’ season since 1989, save for the 2001, 2009 and 2013 crops that followed very wet autumns that wrecked planned winter wheat drilling plans.

The oat crop area has risen over recent years, but is expected to plateau or fall back slightly to 160,000ha for harvest 2018.

The Survey points to a 9% increase in the oilseed rape area with 616,000ha established, although this is higher than United Oilseeds projection of 603,000ha. It is the first increase since the 2012 crop of 756,000ha, since when it has fallen each year.

The area for pulse crop plantings next spring is forecast to fall by 6% to 219,000ha, back to the level of two years ago. Factors behind this are the EU ban on pesticide usage on pulses grown on Ecological Focus Areas and relatively subdued markets for human consumption and feed beans.

“Good moisture levels and less flea beetle damage than last year meant there was a favourable establishment period this autumn, so less OSR is likely to be written off as a failed crop,” notes the AHDB.  “In contrast, autumn drilling conditions for other crops have been difficult in many parts of the UK following a long and late harvest, slowing the winter plantings and meaning winter drilling has continued later than usual. Typically, under these conditions, the UK tends to see slightly less autumn cropping. Coupled with agronomic incentives for more spring cropping and lower costs of production for some crops, this trend appears to be continuing.”