Farmer says 2012 'the worst harvest in my lifetime'

Record-breaking wet weather has damaged food production and led to poor crop yields across the UK - with experts warning of soaring food prices and worsening global conditions.

The strain on British farmers means productivity is down to 1980s levels, according to the National Farmers' Union (NFU).

Arable farmer Richard Payne, 49, from Taunton in Somerset, told BBC News his harvest has been so seriously affected that it could threaten his farm's future altogether.

"As a farmer, this has been the worst harvest in my lifetime. And my father, who is 83, says it is the worst he has ever seen.

"The fact that last year was our best and this year the worst makes it even harder to take."

Business has been "seriously affected" by the weather, adds Mr Payne.

"Our 10-year average for wheat has been 3.8 tonnes per acre. In 2011, we achieved a 4.8 tonne crop, and for 2012, it has shrunk to well below three tonnes per acre.

"If it's one year, we can just about get out of it, but beyond that we are facing serious problems. It will become increasingly hard to continue at all."

And beyond that, farmers are under enormous pressure over prices.

"For supermarkets, food prices must be kept down, at all costs, for the consumer. But because farming is such a long cycle there is little account taken of retrospective costs for the producer.

"For example, I've spent about £30,000 on my rape seed crop already - in seeds, cultivations, slug pellets - and that's just the cost. It could all fail.

"I used to be in beef, but we were screwed to the floor by retailers. It didn't matter what costs you had, they didn't care. I had to get out of it.

"Looking back 25 years ago, British people probably spent about 22% of their disposable income on food. Now we spend roughly between 4 and 8%, so food has actually become cheaper.

"But people don't realise that the 'bog-offs' - the buy-one-get-one-free deals as we call them - are not actually sponsored by supermarkets. They are paid for by the producer who has to agree to them under tight terms and conditions.

"I don't think food production is properly taught in school anymore and many don't realise how fragile the whole system is.

"Some people have a jaundiced view that prices are rising and going into the pocket of the farmers. That's just not the case.

"I have lost money for the last 15 years - making a bit in the last two - but margins are always extremely tight. If we make a less than quality crop then we lose money."

And the outlook is not improving, he warns.

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