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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Study: UK crop yields held back by poor soil, agronomy and weather

Immediate release (1 Jan 2013)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065; Peter Lundgren 07751 112 303

A report from the Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) has highlighted how the genetic potential of modern wheat and oilseed rape varieties is being held back by poor soil conditions, agronomy and weather. [1]

GM Freeze welcomes this informed and balanced research into the factors limiting wheat and OSR yields in the UK and says this means UK research institutions should now concentrate on basic soil science and agronomy rather than GM crops. [2]

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

This report shows the critical importance of agronomy and soil in allowing crops to yield to their full potential, and we welcome this informed and balanced research. Identifying these fundamental problems with modern arable farming only highlights the folly of paying too much attention to GM crops, which still continue to dominate the minds of Government ministers and research directors.

These disciplines have become Cinderella sciences in the last 30 years, and it is time for major investment in these areas so farmers can utilise the best possible advice on how to get good yields in a sustainable manner.

The HGCA report looked at factors preventing the same yields being achieved in the field that the genetic potential of modern non-GM varieties achieves in trial sites. It highlighted several common causes for depressed yields in the two crops including:

  • Deep soil compaction
  • Rotations that are too short
  • Sulphur deficient soils
  • Minimum tillage
  • Sub-optimal levels of nitrogen

The report also examines how the weather at crucial stages of the growing season can influence yields in both crops by causing stress to the plants or encouraging disease.

Lincolnshire arable farmer Peter Lundgren said:

Farmers cannot control the weather. To mitigate the extremes of the weather we are experiencing we must concentrate on getting the soil and agronomy right in order to give crops the best chance.

GM crops will not increase yields in the UK. The introduction of GM herbicide tolerant crops would encourage short rotations and minimum tillage, which the HGCA says are already holding back yields – and that’s before GM’s potential to increase the incidence of herbicide resistance. We need to look very hard at our use of heavy machinery and prevent deep soil compaction. GM crops do nothing to address these very basic problems.

The UK’s research institutions need to think again about their priorities and drop GM research in favour of whole farm systems research. They need to do it quickly so farmers can be informed of best practice.




1. Home Grown Cereals Authority, November 2012. Project Report No. 502: Desk study to evaluate contributory causes of the current “yield plateau” in wheat and oilseed rape.

2. GM Freeze, 10 February 2013. Wheat and Oilseed Rape Yields – Factors with the greatest impact and why GM will not make a difference