This article is provided by BRC Associate Member RSK


Not many people realise that since 1996, the amount of wheat grain produced across the UK has, on average, stayed the same. Despite the introduction of new crop varieties, improvements in agronomy, and advancements in fertiliser technology, British wheat yields have effectively stalled for 27 years. Why could this be?

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that we’ve reached our limit - that maybe British land is incapable of growing more food, or that we don’t get enough of the right weather. However, research evidence shows that none of this is the case…

North Western Europe has some of the best growing conditions in the world for cereals, with mild temperatures, bright summers, and consistent year-round rainfall (although given that our weather patterns are changing, our future circumstances may not be so fortunate!).

Furthermore, independent crop research data indicates that with adequate soil water supply, it is currently possible to achieve 16 tonnes of wheat per hectare anywhere in the UK.

But if this is true, why are most British farmers only achieving half that at best (averaging 7.8 tonnes per hectare)?

Yield is not the only food security issue; grain quality is a major concern too. According to UK Flour Millers, who represents nearly all processors in the UK, we currently import 750,000 tonnes of wheat each year from Europe, the US, and Canada. British farmers are growing enough wheat to meet retail flour demand, but are currently unable to produce enough of the high-quality wheat needed for bread. What are we doing wrong and how can we do better?

To try and resolve these ‘growing’ concerns, The Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) was founded by crop scientists from the independent consultancy ADAS in 2012. Our founding goal was to sustainability increase both the yield and quality of cereal yields.

By analysing and comparing crop data from hundreds of farms involved in the network each year, we have narrowed down the factors that most influence yield and quality. Every year, we learn a little bit more about 'what works', and our learnings are shared with each YEN farming member via a bespoke report on their crop performance. We also guide them by outlining the maximum potential yield possible from their fields and advise on incremental changes needed to reach that maximum.

While yields across the UK may have plateaued, farms involved in YEN harvest on average 11 tonnes of wheat grain per hectare; the highest-performing YEN farms reach well beyond that. The current world record holder for wheat (18 tonnes per hectare) is a YEN farming member from Lincolnshire.

Since we started in 2012, we’ve expanded into oilseeds, pulses, and even measuring the carbon footprints of crops. By encouraging farmers to share data and learn together, we can find ways to grow more and grow better – after all, a rising tide raises all ships!

Find out more about how YEN works in our on-demand webinar with ADAS.