Early Bird Survey

Updated 19 December 2023
The Early Bird Survey (EBS) takes place each autumn to assess national cropping intentions. It is undertaken by The Andersons Centre, with the help of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) and other agronomists.

Update due mid-March

After an extremely challenging autumn, AHDB is re-running this survey to capture the potential cropped areas for harvest 2024. The results are provisionally due in mid-March, though we’re continuing to monitor the situation as the weather remains wet.

2024 results

The Early Bird Survey (EBS) of planting intentions shows a fall in winter cropping for harvest 2024. At a national level, wheat, winter barley and oilseed rape areas are all set to fall this harvest, with increases intended to the areas of spring wheat, spring barley and spring oats.

Please note this survey captures early plantings and planting intentions as of early November. It does not take into account subsequent weather conditions that may change the harvest area estimates. Autumn drilling conditions have been poor in many parts of the UK in later weeks of the drilling season. This has changed drilling intentions last minute.

Given the challenges faced this autumn and the condition of soils, winter crop areas may well be lower than this survey indicates. AHDB will update on the situation in early 2024 when planting progress allows.

Final EBS forecast of planting intentions for harvest 2024 by crop

Regional differences in cropping intentions

Last week, Defra released its final estimates for the 2023 UK arable crop areas. This allows us to look at the results of our Early Bird Survey of planting intentions on a regional level for the four main crops: wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape (OSR).

Wheat

The total intended wheat area is forecast to be down 3% year-on-year at 1,660 Kha, with lower areas projected for most regions.

The falls are all within the winter crop, primarily because the later weeks of the autumn cereals drilling period have been very difficult for many regions. The final planted area may well be lower than the intended area due to the continued wet weather and the difficult early conditions for winter wheat crops.

Spring wheat area is expected to rise, but from a very small area in 2023 and still a small proportion of the total. It’s currently hoped that spring will offer better weather conditions, though there are no guarantees. If these planting intentions are confirmed, this would make the total wheat area for 2024 harvest, the lowest since 2020.

Regionally, the largest percentage falls are for Wales and Northern Ireland (-10%), Scotland (-8%) and the East Midlands (-8%), closely followed by Yorkshire & The Humber (-7%).

Eastern England remains the largest wheat growing region in the UK, and is the only area expected to record little change in the area for harvest 2024. A year-on-year rise is only expected in the West Midlands, where the intended wheat area is up an estimated 8% to 165 Kha.

Scotland is expected to see an 8% fall in wheat plantings, to 99 Kha.

EBS forecast of regional spring barley planting intentions for harvest 2024 

Barley

The total barley area is forecast up 4% year-on-year at 1,179 Kha as the predicted rise in spring barley more than outweighs a fall in winter barley plantings. The forecasted total winter barley area is down 7% on the year at 423 Kha, while the area of spring barley is forecast to rise 11% from harvest 2023 to 756 Kha.

Most regions record year-on-year falls in the forecasted areas of winter barley, though to varying degrees. The biggest percentage falls for harvest 2024 are in the West Midlands and North West, down 31% and 20% respectively.

Only Scotland, and Yorkshire and The Humber, see increases in forecasted winter barley area, both expected up 5% year-on-year. If confirmed, these areas would both be the largest since 2019.

EBS forecast of regional winter barley planting intentions for harvest 2024 

If the predicted rise in the UK spring barley area is realised, it would be the largest area since 2020 following the extremely wet autumn of 2019.

All areas bar the West Midlands and Wales and Northern Ireland, are predicted to see a rise in spring barley plantings. In the West Midlands, the intention is for a 5 Kha (22%) decline, while a 1 Kha (4%) fall is intended across Wales and Northern Ireland.

The largest year-on-year percentage increase is forecast for the North West. This is closely followed by the and East Midlands and Yorkshire & The Humber, where some of the largest year-on-year falls in wheat and oilseed rape (OSR) area are expected.

Scotland, a key spring barley producer, is anticipated to gain in the region of 10Kha versus harvest 2023. If the intention is realised, this would mean a Scottish spring barley area comparable to that harvested in 2020.

EBS forecast of regional spring barley planting intentions for harvest 2024

Oats

The UK oat area for harvest 2024 is estimated at 180 Kha, up 8% (13 Kha) from harvest 2023. A decline in the winter oats area is expected to be more than offset by a rise in spring area.

Larger oat areas are intended in most regions. The largest year-on-year percentage rises are for the East Midlands and Yorkshire & The Humber, where some of the largest year-on-year declines in wheat and OSR plantings are expected.

In Scotland, the intended oat area is down 12% year-on-year to 23 Kha. If realised, this would be the smallest since 2011.

A small year-on-year fall in the total oat area is also predicted for North West England (-1 Kha).

EBS forecast of regional oat planting intentions for harvest 2024

Oilseed rape

After climbing over the past two years, the OSR area again is predicted to fall for harvest 2024. Lower rapeseed prices, combined with lower yields and a later harvest in 2023 all seem to have played a role in curbing the area. At 317 Kha nationally, the area is anticipated to be down close to 75 Kha from last harvest and the lowest since 2021.  

Markedly lower areas of OSR are expected in all areas of the UK, with the sharpest falls estimated for the East Midlands and Yorkshire & The Humber.

Despite the estimated declines the Eastern region continues to have the largest area of OSR, followed by the East Midlands. It’s worth noting however that the EBS estimates for OSR for harvest 2024 would be the lowest recorded in these regions; Defra began reporting regional OSR areas in 2001.

Nevertheless, the final area may be less than planting intentions suggest. Anecdotal reports suggest the OSR area that will not make it to harvest might be greater than last year because of heavy rains and water logging, as well as pests.

EBS forecast of regional oilseed rape planting intentions for harvest 2024

Additional information

There have been small changes in area expectations compared to the provisional results released in November 2023. The raw data sample is unchanged, but the Defra final crop area estimates are adjusted from the provisional figures.

The AHDB Early Bird Survey is carried out each autumn to assess national cropping intentions. It is undertaken by The Andersons Centre, with the help of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) and other agronomists.

This year’s survey covered 620 Kha and represents the intentions of farmers across the UK during a snapshot in time. Data was still being collected for these provisional results up to 9 November 2023.

Crops of smaller area had a lesser area coverage in the survey, so these results will be subject to greater uncertainty. This survey is focused on the arable farm rotation rather than all arable land which would include grass and forage rotations. For this reason, an estimate of the total area of these crops is included in this figure.

Figures in all tables are subject to rounding and may not add up exactly to national figures.

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