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Solutions to Production Plateau

15 November 2012

UK - Addressing shortcomings in current agronomic practice is one of the first steps needed to tackle the UK’s yield plateau in winter wheat and oilseed rape, according to a major new study published this week.

Looking back as far as the 1940's, the Yield Plateau report was commissioned by HGCA and Defra in 2011 to look at the factors limiting increased yields in the UK and to address gaps in current industry research.

The report considered climate and weather patterns, plant breeding, economic influences, farm management practice and the impact of commodity prices on yields.

Since the 1990s, UK winter wheat yields have stalled, while oilseed rape yields have fluctuated wildly over the past 30 years. This is despite genetic yield gain continuing to deliver potential progress at more than 0.5 per cent per year for winter wheat and 2% for oilseed rape.

Dr Susannah Bolton, HGCA’s Head of Research and Knowledge Transfer, said: “This report clearly shows there is no simple solution to the problem of stagnating yields.

“The study suggests getting the most from yield potential will require changes to agronomic practice and improved variety selection in the short-term, while issues such as a better understanding of soil health and improved collection of on-farm yield data need to be addressed in the future."

Specific recommendations included:


  • Building on the HGCA Recommended Lists system with additional information for varieties in specific situations.
  • Better tools to manage and monitor crop growth and lodging risk – addressing the reasons why some growers may not favour higher-yielding varieties.
  • More proactive responses by industry to the problems of pesticide resistance and improving grower tools to manage and mitigate risks
  • Medium Term

  • Industry research on how agronomy can impact on and improve N efficiency, including interactions with soil management and rooting.
  • Ensuring precision farming techniques are more practical and accessible for small or medium-sized farms.
  • An updated analysis of areas where crops are at medium or high risk of sulphur deficiency and likely to respond favourably to sulphur applications.
  • Plugging the knowledge gap on the state and health of UK soils, particularly the incidence of compaction and variations in soil organic matter.
  • Longer Term

  • Improved collection of data on farm practice to better monitor changes in practice.
  • Breeding and selection of varieties better suited to changing environmental conditions in the UK.

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