Although the old saying of ‘If March comes in like a lamb it will go out like a lion’ has been bandied about for generations, this season looks very much like disproving that sentiment.
With the odd exceptional heavy shower and some strong winds proving a bit troublesome, most of the month has proved very sound weather-wise. Temperatures have been cool without being too cold and, even though the wind has kept the selection of spraying and fertilizing days a bit limited, the ground conditions have been drying out well which has meant spring work is quite advanced for this stage in the season.
Winter crops continue to look well although there have been reports of disease levels being quite high in many. For the most part, this seems to be contained in wheat crops. The wind has restricted spraying opportunities, most farmers are so well equipped that they have still managed to cover the fungicide applications without too much difficulty. Since the wheat crops are quite forward, many farmers didn’t rush out the first top dressings of fertiliser. There are a few cases of farmers not applying as much as usual, with plans to top it up on later applications.
Winter barley is getting to First node stages in many places and, although there are still comments on mildew and rynchosporium appearing, the crops are mostly in very good shape for this stage of the year.
The main talking point in March has been the degree of sowing of all spring crops over the past few weeks. This is the first time for several years that March has provided such a good opportunity, particularly for farmers in the east and southern Scotland and north-east England, to progress with their sowing so effectively.
The reports on the standards of seedbeds are as good as can be recalled for a long time which is very encouraging toward good spring barley and wheat crops this year. Even the fear that the long drought of last spring which lasted from mid-March to the end of May could arise again has been diminished following some steady, but not too heavy, showers of rain recently across most of east Scotland.
There has been quite a turn-around in wheat market values since the last report in early March. At that stage, our local ex-farm price was trading at £208.50 for April, the price for April move now (at point of writing) is £196 ex-farm with most of this revaluation happening within the past 2 weeks.
There have been a number of factors taking their toll on these values. Sterling and improving crop condition reports from Russia and much of Europe being the main ones. While the vaccine rollout in UK continues effectively it is likely that our currency will remain well supported.
Despite the bearish tone being set at present, it still needs noting that stocks of wheat within UK, as well as a good proportion of Europe, will be at historical lows and the market will need to be very wary of weather and crop condition trends over the next few months. The Scottish grain trade is already sensing the tightness of wheat availability from the farm and we are still 4 months away from our local 2021 wheat harvest.
Feed barley prices have softened slightly, but not as much as we have seen in wheat. From prices in the range of £165-£168 at the start of March, we are now looking closer to £162-£164 being the level that farmers are getting offered. Similarly, new crop barley will now see harvest values close to £140, a similar £4-£5 fall as old crop barley has experienced.
Whether these trends continue will depend on how the wheat and imported maize markets develop through the coming weeks and months. Another factor may be the opening of bars, restaurants and social events through the summer which may have a consequential increase in expected demand for malting barley but this is impossible to judge at this point.
In summary, the bullish tone mentioned in the previous report has now eased back to being more neutral since the conflicting issues of low carry-over stocks appear to be matched, currently at least, by a healthier anticipated harvest yield for 2021. There will be a USDA report released this evening (31st March) which will set a trend for the next few weeks but at the time of writing, it is difficult to pre-guess which way the US will set the tone. One to follow through on next month’s report!