Bread cost to soar after rain-hit wheat harvest

Herald Series: Sarah Penny, from Nash's Bakery Buy this photo » Sarah Penny, from Nash's Bakery

THE price of a daily loaf could soar thanks to spiralling wheat prices, Oxfordshire farmers and millers have warned.

Last year’s washout summer hit the harvest hard with wheat yields down by more than 16 per cent which has caused flour prices to rise by 25 per cent to £600 a tonne in recent months.

And already bad weather has delayed planting for this year’s harvest.

Seeds are normally sown by the end of October but heavy rainfall meant the ground was too wet. Now it’s frozen.

Wantage-based flour producer Wessex Mill, which normally uses local farms, is having to import half its supplies from other countries such as Germany and Canada.

Owner Paul Munsey, who supplies flour to 150 bakeries, said wheat prices have gone up by 50 per cent from £180 to £270 a tonne in the last year.

He added: “I don’t think we have seen the full effect of last year’s bad harvest yet.

“We are under a lot of pressure to put our prices up.

The food industry is going to have a very difficult time over the next 12 months.”

As well as wheat the bad weather has meant harvests of apples, grapes for wine making and even Brussels sprouts have hit Oxfordshire producers in the last six months.

For example, volumes of grapes at the Bothy vineyard at Frilford Heath were as low as 20 per cent of what is normally produced.

William Emmett, chairman of the National Farmers ‘Union Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire branch, has farms in Little Milton and Long Wittenham and has planted only half of this year’s wheat crop.

The rest will have to be sown in the spring, giving it less time to grow and pushing yield down by a third.

He said: “Hopefully, the weather will not be as bad this year. In all my life I can’t remember a year like 2012.”

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Philip Chamberlain, who farms 3,000 acres at Crowmarsh Battle Farm in Wallingford, saw his wheat yield fall by 1,200 tonnes or 30 per cent last year and has only planted 60 per cent of this year’s crop.

He said: “It’s not just the quantity of wheat that was down last year, the quality was lower too. Normally, half the wheat we sell goes for bread making but only 10-15 per cent was good enough for that last year.”

Now local bakeries face the prospect of having to pass flour price rises on to hard-pressed customers by charging more for bread, cakes and pastries.

According to the Retail Price Index, which measures the cost of food, the price of a white loaf jumped from 85p in 2005 to £1.27 in 2012.

Mark Nash, of Nash’s Bakery which owns shops in Oxford, Blackbird Leys, Chipping Norton and also two outlets in Bicester, uses only flour from local suppliers.

He said: “We are trying to stay optimistic. It’s difficult for the baker because we are the last in the chain.

“I hope prices don’t have to go up but if they get passed on from the farm to the mill to the baker, then we won’t have a choice.”

Sarah Penny, who manages Nash’s bread shop in Oxford’s Covered Market, added: “Our customers know everything they buy has gone up, not just bread, but they also expect to pay a little bit more for quality. ”

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