Other than the confirmation of a new UK record temperature – 38.7°c in case you missed it – one of the more interesting statistics which emerged from the ‘Phew, what a scorcher!’ of a week or so ago was the fact that the average Brit spends more than four months of his life talking about the weather.

Along with other useful trivia, such as the average bod spends around 25 years asleep, there is bound to be a huge variation between individuals – and at different times of our life. Interestingly enough, a quick bit of fact-checking (okay, I Googled it) showed that earlier studies had actually found that the average UK inhabitant spent 10 months talking about the weather.

Obviously this large variation could be due entirely to the number of farmers included in the sample – for many of us probably spend closer to 20 years of our life speaking about the weather than 10 months.

Who in our line of work conducts a conversation without at least a third of the exchange consisting of an analysis not only of the current and recently past meteorological happenings but also of those of the year to date and the probable short term forecast as well as the longer outlook taking us through to the other side of harvest?

But, saving some precious time for discussing other things, another fairly broad statistic was also bouncing about last week – and it seemed to crop up in several different places.

And that was the ‘fact’ that between 25 and 40% of crop yield is lost to weeds, pests and diseases. The source was given at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, but I also came across it in a report drawn up for the UK’s Crop Protection Association.

The report, ‘Plant protection products: The value of their contribution to lowering UK household expenditure on food and drink’, takes a pretty detailed look at the effect which is stopping the use of pesticides (or plant protection products to give them their more consumer-friendly name) would have on production.

However, as the title suggests, it also takes the bolder step of extrapolating this onto the effect which it would be likely to have on the shoppers’ purse or wallet.

Drawn up by the independent researcher, Sean Rickard – a former chief economist with the English NFU – he stated that research indicated that losses due to pests, diseases and weeds would double without pesticides and makes it plain that this would have serious consequences for UK shoppers.

Although the report focused on the fact that the average shoppers annual grocery bill would soar by close to £800, the brutal truth is that while UK would still be likely to make up any shortfall in home production by importing from other countries, that luxury wouldn’t be afforded to the inhabitants of poorer nations, where food is already either scarce or priced out of their reach.

The report stated that pesticides prevent the loss of crop yields by guarding them from more than 10,000 species of pests, 30,000 species of weeds and countless diseases.

Now, despite the fact that some farmers might have mixed views on some of Rickard’s output over the years, few would argue with his conclusion that if the industry was denied access to these products there would be a significant drop in global food production. Which, in turn, would cause a substantial hike in food prices – and at the same time a marked decline in the quality of our main food crops which most shoppers have come to expect in this day and age.

The report points out that agriculture’s contribution to food security and to living standards is critically dependent on its ability to produce high and consistent crop yields: “These are the product of scientific research, the fruits of which are manifested in more resilient crops, the provision of nutrients via fertilisers and the improved efficacy of synthetic plant protection products,” stated Rickard.

While it’s easy to see that yields would suffer with the loss of the chemicals which protect them from the threats of weeds, pests and diseases, wider forces would also come into play.

Just as a rule of thumb, organic crops are generally viewed as producing yields which are around 30-35% behind those of conventionally grown crops.

While some years they may come close to equalling conventional crops, other years they can fall further behind and in general, overall production levels tend to be less stable, so this would certainly indicate that world food production would be prone to much greater year-to-year variation as a result of banning pesticides.

But other means would have to be adopted to counteracting the lack of sprays and these would be likely to result in a decrease in the area of the major crops grown – as more diverse rotations than we currently run would also have to be adopted. That would mean more minor crops and even more grass and clover leys introduced into the mix.

Of course, depending on your viewpoint, this might not be a bad thing – but what the report helps to point out is the fact that such an approach would inevitably come with a higher price tag for food.

This kinda highlights one of the conundrums of agricultural practice – we tend to assume that the more we produce, the more money we’ll make. While that attitude is bound to be good news for the customer – it blinds us to the simple rules of supply and demand in the commodity markets which, time and again, see prices fall when production increases.

You probably don’t need to look any further than the price of feeding barley this year. Last year, the shortfall in production saw some making prices of £170-£175 due to the fact that there was hardly any around – while this year’s four tonnes-plus an acre crops have resulted in the price dropping to below £120 per tonne.

It might just be that we’re slow learners – but since the first farmer managed to produce more than enough to feed himself, society as a whole has reaped the benefits of the industry’s constant endeavours to increase food production.

It would appear that the urge to try to produce more from what we’ve got is strong and somehow pre-programmed into the minds of farmers – just like talking about the weather!