Have average cereal yields changed in recent years?

It is widely documented that cereal yields are on the increase. Potential yields of new varieties are changing the game of the industry and all things being equal, more grain can be produced from less land.

However, it is rare that we see the full potential of those yields in the field. Many different factors can affect plant yield such as variety and management. When looking at national average yields, weather is what we can look to to explain the main differences.

In this article, AgriLand takes a look at average yields of Irish cereal crops, using data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) from 2008 to 2019. While there are peaks and troughs in the data, for the most part the trend is that yields are increasing.

Exceptional years for weather can be seen clearly on the bar charts. For example, the dips in 2012 and 2018 can be associated with years of heavy rain and drought. 2016 was also a harvest that few will forget for a long time as rain made cutting extremely difficult.

Spring barley

In the first graph below, the record spring barley yield of 2019 can be seen clearly at 8t/ha (3.2t/ac). That record came after an increasing trend and more consistent yields in recent years.

Winter barley

Winter barley is a crop that many consider to be potentially high yielding. The advent of six-row and hybrid barley varieties has added to this expectation.

2015 was an exceptional year for the crop – average yields hit 10.2t/ha (4.1t/ac) – and also marked a big shift towards the crop’s popularity as the three-crop rule came into force.

However, since that year average yields have been significantly lower – 8.6-9.3t/ha (3.5-3.8t/ac). The trend for winter barley is for a slight increase over the years.

It is perhaps the increase in winter barley area which has had one of the biggest effects on the country’s grain production. In 2008, it took up 8% of the area dedicated to barley, wheat and oats. In 2019, that figure was at 31%.

Winter wheat

Average winter wheat yields are also showing an increase. 10t/ha (4t/ac) is now an expected outcome for this crop. This has no doubt helped in keeping the area sown to the crop at stable levels – in 2019 it accounted for 22% of the barley, wheat and oats area.

Spring wheat

The trend in spring wheat yields is for an increase. From 2013 on, average yields were consistently hitting 8t/ha (3.2t/ac) or over, with the exception of 2018 when drought hit the country.

Winter oats

The average yield of winter oats has also shown a trend of increase. From 2013 on yields were over 8t/ha (3.2t/ac), apart from 2018. Before 2013, yields were consistently below 8t/ha (3.2t/ac).

Spring oats

Spring oats yield has shown a slight increase, but has struggled to get over 7.5t/ha (3.0t/ac).

Pool of results

It is important to note that each year the area sown to each crop differed. For example, 23,200ha of spring wheat were planted in 2008. However, by 2019 just 3,800ha of the crop were planted.

The table below shows the percentage of the total wheat, barley and oats area that was taken up by each individual crop from 2008 to 2019. These figures were calculated using data obtained from the CSO.

It should also be emphasised that these yields are the national average. Many of our readers will no doubt report higher yields than those above or might say their spring barley crop didn’t yield 8t/ha last season, but these figures are the national averages.