Warning that food prices could rise as record rainfall floods crops across England

  • ITV News Anglia's Andy Ward talks to farmers about how the challenging winter has affected their crops

Experts have warned food prices could rise again after record-breaking wet weather curbed food production in the UK.

Farmers in the East said that exceptional rainfall over the last 18 months has left fields submerged since last autumn, leaving crops rotting in the fields and affecting livestock, too.

And the knock-on impact could mean shortages on the supermarket shelves, a heavier reliance on imports and increased prices, say industry leaders.

George Munns, a farmer at West More Farm near Chatteris said: "The rain set in in October and it really didn't stop until a few weeks ago, so the water laid and killed the crops.

"This is a real challenge. We've never had a year like this before. I've been about for 60-odd years and I've never seen anything like it."

According to the Met Office, 1,695.9mm of rain fell from October 2022 to March 2024, the highest amount for any 18-month period in England in recorded history, dating to 1836.

The East of England experienced the wettest February on record in 2024, with 106.4mm of rain and record-breaking amount of rainfall from October to February.

Rotting sugar beet at a Norfolk farm Credit: ITV News Anglia

Dr Gordon Fletcher, associate dean for research and innovation at the University of Salford Business School, said: "It's a timely reminder that climate change is now disrupting regular and expected weather patterns with ever more extreme events.

"The bad news is that extreme weather events not only bring immediate disruption and destruction but also have longer terms impacts that make shopping more expensive, creates food shortages on the supermarket shelves as well as raising inflation."

Kevin White, fresh foods editor at The Grocer magazine, said: "We're already starting to see shortages now.

"We've seen it in potatoes in particular. A lot of the major supermarkets have reduced bag sizes from 2.5kgs to 2kgs, but they're keeping the price at a higher level. So shrinkflation, in other words."

Tim Papworth, a farmer in Norfolk said: "It's been a catastrophe. Just storm, after storm, after storm and rain after rain after rain.

"It's just been so wet it's unbelievable. It started for me with storm Babet in the autumn of last year and it's just continued for the rest of the year.

"It's made it very difficult to sow the crops and very difficult to harvest the crops. By not having the crops harvested, we've lost a lot of our investment.

"We've lost cereal crops to flooding and our sugar beet we were unable to harvest it and it's just rotted in the ground," he said.

"And we're some of the lucky ones here, to be quite honest."

  • Funding row

A Farming Recovery Fund that offers grants of up to £25,000 to restore land affected by recent storms launched this week - but farmers in some areas have not been able to access it.

Tim Papworth - who farms in Norfolk, one of the areas not yet eligible for funding - said that needed to change urgently.

He said: "We produce so much food in this part of the world. We are the bread basket of England in East Anglia.

"We had so much flooding. We've lost cereal crops to flooding and our sugarbeet we were unable to harvest, and it's just rotted in the ground. I would say to the government, don't forget Norfolk. We need help."

The government said that Norfolk's eligibility was under review. A Defra spokesperson said: "We are acutely aware of the impact extreme weather can have on the farming community.

"That is why we have protected over 900,000 acres of agricultural land from the impacts of flooding since 2015, and why we are investing £5.6bn to better protect communities from flooding and coastal erosion."

Tim Papworth, Norfolk farmer Credit: ITV News Anglia

According to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), prices of bread and other food using grains was already rising, but now they expect further increases.

They reported that wheat production was down 15% since November, the biggest reduction in cropped areas since 2020.

Oilseed rape is down 28% and winter barley is down 22% at 355,000 hectares, the biggest reduction since 2020.

The areas that have been planted are likely to produce poor-quality crops as the soil is waterlogged, and some crops are likely to fail.

The AHDB said: "The unfavourable weather is putting the yield at risk of being significantly reduced."

Jack Watts, head of economics at the AHDB said: "The prolonged wet weather has created serious challenges for farmers, who were hoping for recovery in 2024 after costs had risen sharply... and on top of this, policy reform in England has seen direct payments to farmers reduced.

"As a result, the nation may well rely more on imported raw food materials - particularly grain, which can be sensitive to geopolitical influences as well as international weather... and costs more than transporting domestic produce."

The NFU vice-president, Rachel Hallos, said: "People should be in no doubt about the immense pressure UK farm businesses are under thanks to this unprecedented and constant rain. It’s no exaggeration to say a crisis is building.

"While farmers are bearing the brunt of it now, consumers may well see the effects through the year as produce simply doesn’t leave the farm gate."

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