Much like April last year, we saw extremely little rainfall across the country during April. Along with the dry weather putting crops under stress, temperatures have been much lower than normal with parts of the UK seeing a record number of frosts. The combination of dry and cold hasn’t been particularly favourable for progressing crop growth in either winter or spring crops.
The growth of winter cereals has been stilted and gradual due to the conditions. Most started April in good shape and at a reasonably advanced stage following a wet and mild winter. Despite the setback of unsuitable weather in April, both winter wheat and barley are still showing plenty of potentials. If May features more agreeable weather in terms of rainfall and temperature, then we may expect yields for crops to reach an acceptable level.
Some winter crops look thin from waterlogging
All winter cereals have received a second top dressing of fertiliser, with the dry conditions allowing farmers to be active with sprayers to control weeds and diseases. Crops are moving into May a little behind ideal growth stages, but otherwise in good shape.
Better sowing conditions in March allowed for a greater proportion of spring cereals to be sown earlier than in recent years. This has proven helpful in limiting the damage that April’s weather would have inflicted if sowing had been delayed.
While much of the barley was sown in March into nice, fine seedbeds with enough rain to give these crops good establishment, some farmers decided to delay sowing until April. Generally, this has worked against them as the colder, drier seedbeds haven’t given the best conditions for the barley crop to start in. Whilst there have been light showers across the country recently, the farmers whose crops are struggling to get going will be hoping that there has been enough moisture to overcome the slow start.
April has been a very active month in the wheat market with the rise in wheat futures prices between the beginning of and end of the month showing a gain of 16%.
The dry weather experienced in the UK in April was also making an impression across most of Western Europe and similar conditions have been affecting North US and Canada too. When recent reports of global corn and wheat stocks are describing lower levels than many specialists would be comfortable about, it follows that any concerns of production for the forthcoming harvest being affected by any factor, whether political, weather or any other, will have a more significant effect on grain prices. Thus, the fears that yields may suffer, in some more productive northern hemisphere areas from droughty conditions, spurred the wheat futures market into a very rapid increase, leading from values at the start of April in mid £160’s peaking on the 27th at £195. However, from midday on the 27th, reports started filtering in that forecasts of rain in the US and Canada would solve much of the drought there and, along with rain in Europe, the concerns of production falls of cereals have been generally alleviated. This has immediately eased the futures by more than £12/t in the succeeding 3 days. Much depends on whether these conditions continue to help crops and that no other factors come into play, to keep the market under control.
Old crop wheat and barley are proving difficult to source. This is no surprise with wheat since last year’s harvest was the lowest wheat crop for many years. The barley situation is more puzzling but it certainly seems like the export tonnage and grain being used for livestock feed has had a greater effect on stocks than anticipated. Wheat continues to be worth over £200 ex-farm and barley prices have firmed to over £170 ex.
New crop wheat for harvest 2021 was trading around £190 at the start of last week but has now eased to around £180. Barley didn’t follow the increases in the wheat values and is trading just over £150 for August.
We’ll just need to see what factors affect these markets during the next few months to establish whether we’ve seen the market highs or not.