Wet weather has ruined at least a third of the UK wheat crop, farmers and millers have claimed. The crops still to be harvested would almost inevitably be no better than animal feed quality, they said, adding that they would find out how much of the already harvested crop was of bread-making quality over the next fortnight.

If the damage is as bad as feared, a sharp increase in imported wheat could be on the cards, they warned. Imports were already costing £30 per tonne more as a result of the weakening pound, according to National Association of British and Irish Millers director Alex Waugh.

To compound farmers’ misery further, the price of wheat has dropped 12.5% year-on-year as a result of strong worldwide harvests.

“The summer has been pretty awful here in the UK, but globally it’s been a good summer and yields are strong,” said James Hutchings, an analyst at commodity tracker Mintec. “UK farmers haven’t had their crop destroyed, but a lot of it will be downgraded to feed wheat, which fetches a much lower price.”

The farming industry had been crossing its fingers for a dry spell in late August to allow it to salvage a late harvest. Defra rules had banned the use of combine harvesters in wet fields, but the NFU this week won a month-long suspension of the rule, which is allowing some farmers to begin bringing in the sodden crops.

This year’s low wheat price would hit farmers with a double whammy, according to NFU agriculture advisor Guy Gagan. “The price has fallen faster than UK yields have increased,” he said. “Plus you generally factor into your costs having to dry half your wheat. This year we’re having to dry all of it.” Good weather in the next few weeks was vital to prepare the fields, he added.

“We do need a dry spell. It’s not quite time to plant wheat yet,” he said. “But without this time to prepare the fields, the risk of growing wheat becomes much higher. You can’t plough a sodden field, or a field with wheat in it.”