Harvest time in the fields can also be one rich in learning for schools. This primary assembly discusses how a good or a bad harvest can affect individual farmers – as well as anyone who eats a slice of toast for breakfast

It will be useful if you could show a picture of a field of wheat.

Some bread if you can manage it, preferably different kinds – white loaf, chapati, whatever you can manage. If not, try to display some photos of bread.

I’ve got a picture to show you this morning [Show picture of wheat if you can]. Who can tell me what these pictures are of – and what is the connection between it and my bread? That’s right. The picture is of a field of wheat: most of the bread we eat in this country is made from wheat.
Here’s a slightly trickier question: how does wheat get turned into bread?

[Take suggestions – guide children through these stages]
  • Farmer cuts the wheat and removes the grain – today this is done with one big machine called a combine harvester
  • The grain is sent to a factory to be ground down into flour
  • Flour, water and yeast are mixed together and baked to make bread
  • This can be done by people who buy flour and take it home to make bread
  • It can also be done in a factory so that people can buy bread straight from the shop

Bread, in one form or another, is something that most people will have in their homes, yet there are quite a lot of stages involved in making bread. So let’s go back to the beginning of the story: the farmer who grows the wheat.

Farmers need two things to make wheat seed grow into those beautiful golden fields that you can see in pictures (or in real life, if you’re lucky enough to live in the countryside): sunshine and rain. It’s a magical combination that turns a tiny little seed into a plant that will provide food for us. Then the farmers have to harvest the wheat. Harvesting wheat is the name we give to the process when the farmer gets in his big combine harvester machine and cuts the wheat. To do this, the wheat needs to be dry: several weeks of dry sunny weather are needed for a good harvest.

For anyone who has had a summer holiday in Britain this year, you’ll know that there haven’t been a lot of sunny days – certainly not two solid weeks of sunshine. This means that the harvest this year has been a very difficult time for farmers.

The farmers’ stories
Robert Balfour farms 2,000 acres near Fife in Scotland. His family have farmed there for over 500 years. This is one of the worst harvests he’s ever had. Right now he’s only managed to cut 60% of his crop – but it should all have been done by the end of August. “It’s not a catastrophe – yet – but if we don’t get cutting this weekend it’s going to be pretty serious.”

On the farm belonging to one of Robert’s friends, the fields were so wet that a tractor sank deeply in the muddy field, and it took four other tractors to pull it free. On another friend’s farm, a combine harvester had to be abandoned overnight because it also was stuck in the mud.

“We’ve had 30% of our average annual rainfall since 30th July,” said Robert. “If we get serious amounts more then it could turn into a salvage operation.”

Andrew Moir, another Scottish farmer, grows wheat, barley and oilseed rape.

“I would normally have expected to finish the winter barley by the end of July but I only finished it on Saturday – and I’m still drying it. The mounting costs of drying have been a big problem for us. It is costing us between £12 and £15 in fuel for every tonne of wheat that we dry, and with 800 tonnes of wheat that’s a lot of money.”

And that’s not his only problem: like many farmers, Andrew is also becoming increasingly concerned about the quality of his spring barley. “The longer the wet weather continues, the more the quality is going to deteriorate,” he said.

The price of bread
All across Britain, farmers are having the same problem. The wheat isn’t as good as it should be and instead of being dried by the sun during the summer, the wheat is being cut wet and has to be dried in barns with huge fans like giant hair driers.

Because there won’t be as much good wheat around, and because it’s costing farmers money to dry it, flour will be more expensive. This means the price of bread will go up. This affects everyone.

In this country, we’re very lucky that everyone has enough to eat and people don’t die of starvation. But it’s worth remembering that even though very few of us know what it’s like to grow our own food, what happens on British farms affects us all.

Let’s hope that the next few weeks have better weather so that, in the words of the old song, the harvest will be “safely gathered in”.

PrayerDear Father,We pray today for the farmers in Britain and around the world who are working so hard to bring in their harvests. Please send them sunshine and help them to make this harvest a success.


Be careful not to take the sunshine for granted, or to take the food on our plates for granted.

“He that hath a good harvest may be content with some thistles.”
English Proverb

Further information
Harvest Festivals take place in many churches during September. You can find out about Harvest Festival traditions.

You may wish to sing the hymn ‘Come Ye Thankful People Come’ – a traditional harvest hymn:

Come, ye thankful people, come,Raise the song of harvest home;All is safely gathered in,’Ere the winter storms begin.God our Maker doth provideFor our wants to be supplied;Come to God’s own temple, come,

Raise the song of harvest home.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2008

About the author: Jane West