Early Bird Survey

Updated 23rd December 2020
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.

Early Bird Survey - December 2020

Winter cropping set to increase from last year’s spring surge

The Early Bird Survey points to a resurgence in winter cropping, as the area for both winter wheat and barley is set to increase year-on year.

This is a sizeable increase, although it comes as little surprise after last year’s difficult drilling campaign which resulted in many growers switching to spring cropping. We are now seeing for 2021 a return back to winter cropping.

Oilseed rape (OSR) area is set to decrease by 18%, with the area down to 312Kha. There has been an increase in alternative cropping such as oats and pulses.

With the release of DEFRA’s regional break down for harvest 2020 we can now apply data collected to the regions for the four main crops; wheat, barley, oats & OSR.


The total wheat area is forecast to increase by 28% year-on-year to 1,776Kha. With autumn drilling conditions better than last year intentions of cropping are estimated to turn back to winter wheat.

Across all regions of the UK there is an estimated increase in wheat areas. The most notable areas that have encapsulated this are the two regions that saw a significant decrease last year, the East and East Midlands.

With the area up in the East and East Midlands by 19% and 55%, respectively, growers in these two regions combined are expected to increase their wheat area by 198Kha. Excluding 2019/20 area this is back in line with the 5-year-average.

Furthermore, another region that could largely dictate how far delivered premiums for 2021/22 stretch is Yorkshire & The Humber. Their area is expected to increase by 31% with the area for wheat estimated at 226Kha.


The total winter barley area is forecast to increase by 25% year-on-year to 389Kha. However, the spring barley area is expected to decrease by 30% to 756Kha.

Despite the significant reduction in spring barley, growers are still collectively going to sow over 1,100Kha of barley again.

All regions within the UK expect their winter barley area to increase year-on-year apart from Scotland where the area is expected to decrease by 6%.

The largest increase in area is the East Midlands where an 83% increase is expected with an additional 20Kha intended to be sown in comparison to last year.

With a significant decrease across the UK the only area intending to increase their spring barley area is Scotland where the area is intended to increase by 3%.

Spring barley area in the East (-57Kha), East Midlands (-87Kha) and Yorkshire & The Humber (-49Kha) have significantly reduced, with this loss being absorbed by their increase in wheat for 2021.

The largest percentage decrease is the West Midlands, where the area for spring barley is intended at 21Kka, down 65%.


The total oats area is estimated to increase by 2.1% year-on-year to 214Kha. Last year we saw an increase in oats as growers were unable to sow winter cropping.

However, we are seeing this continue to increase as the OSR area reduces. The area intended for oats for 2021 is way above the 5-year-average of 173Kha.

If spring planting intentions go as planned, we could be looking at our third successive 1Mt oat crop.

Oilseed rape

The total OSR area is forecast to decrease by 18% year-on-year to 312Kha. Anxieties around the risks, economic feasibility and pest prevalence of this break crop have been cited as particular challenges, as we are encapsulating another large year-on-year decrease in area.

The largest decrease in area have been from the East (-19Kha) and East Midlands (-33Kha), this isn’t too much of a surprise as these two areas are where the Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle can cause significant damage.

Intentions in Northern regions and the West Midlands are slightly down but there isn’t any drastic reduction in area, unlike in regions further south.

Additional information

There have been slight changes in figures compared to the provisional results released in November 2020. There was a slight increase in the sample collection and DEFRA provisional figures were slightly higher than the final published results.

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), AIC and other agronomists.

This year’s survey covered 615Kha, which represents ~13% of the UK area for the crops surveyed.

This year’s survey represents the intentions of farmers across the UK during a snapshot in time. With the majority of data collected before 25 November 2020.

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

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