Our first crop report of 2020 and it’s quite different from the previous ones at this time of year.
12 months ago the winter conditions had been very favourable and all autumn sown crops were looking very well established and in good, healthy condition (unlike the year before where the crops were under several inches of snow from the ‘Beast from the East’!). This time around, however, the particularly prolonged wet conditions have produced a considerably different state of affairs.
It has been well documented that famers further south in England have deferred their autumn sowing as a way of limiting the effect of Blackgrass infestation. Coupled with the substantial rainfall from late September, it has meant they were unable to get many crops established. In Scotland and the north of England, this wasn’t the case and a greater proportion of targeted area of wheat was sown. However, the glibness of the Scottish farmers has been considerably dampened down with the seemingly never-ending saturation of the sown soils.
Winter barley – practically all targeted acreage of winter barley was achieved and initially well Established. However, barley doesn’t appreciate wet conditions and, although most areas not under water are still surviving, it is very likely that the yield potential will have been damaged somewhat. In better circumstances, the barley crops would be tillering and starting to push on at this stage of the spring but currently there is no sign of any great progress as they wait for better weather to arrive. Despite all these issues it would be better to assess the crops in April/May since that would give more time to see if there has been a chance of recuperating from their current state.
Winter wheat – It has been estimated that around 80% of the targeted area of wheat in South Scotland/Northeast England was sown in the autumn with fairly good establishment at the time but the winter has taken its toll to varying degrees according to different soil types and rainfall measurements. A very limited amount of later sown wheat was achieved through December, January and February. These crops haven’t been able to get going due to the ongoing waterlogging. Wheat is more resilient than barley in these circumstances and I would expect the crop to survive and perform better than barley where the watery conditions are greatest but there are plenty of areas where the water has lingered at the soil surface long enough for the wheat plants to struggle to survive at all. Thus, the expectations for even an average yield from the existing wheat crops must be reined in.
Markets – Despite the 2019 harvest producing a large tonnage of cereals with excess barley and a comfortable amount of wheat for the Scottish market, the conditions being faced by the current crops will likely lead to significant drops in harvest production. This was particularly evident with wheat, were the market is firmer for harvest 2020 crops, which in turn pull the values of the remaining bulks from 2019 upwards.
Before the current coronavirus situation developed, the only limiting factors were the expected large harvest from Russia/Ukraine, a possible sizeable carry-over of this year’s product and a possible reasonable global Maize harvest. These factors had restricted the prices for harvest 2020 to ex farm values in mid-£160’s at best. With a nervous market worried that something may still arise that could drive the values higher. Now the virus has arrived and turned into a global concern with possible pandemic outcomes, the market has dropped, similar to other commodities, quite hard over the past week to 10 days with £160 now being as good an ex farm price for November movement as achievable at this point.
Much in the short term depends on how the virus situation develops but if the figures get worse, we may yet see this market drop even further. However, as ever, the reverse could happen if the cases seem to start easing off.
The barley market hasn’t traded with as large a variation as wheat this season due to its plentiful supply and expectations that the English spring sowings will present plenty barley to the market this harvest onwards. Current prices locally are just sub-£130 ex farm for feed barley and forward prices for this harvest are looking only slightly higher.