After a cold April, the weather has continued to make its presence felt throughout May. The drought we saw in April may have been well and truly broken, but crops are still struggling to develop due to the low soil temperatures they have been experiencing thanks to frosty conditions and frequent downpours.
The winter cereals have coped reasonably well with the cooler, wet weather. Whilst they are not progressing rapidly through the growth stages, they have progressed to a point where virtually all winter barley crops are fully headed. Most wheat crops have now reached the flag leaf stage of growth.
All winter barley will have received full fertiliser requirements and many farmers will have given crops a final fungicidal head spray.
Winter wheat should also be getting its last top dressing of nitrogen fertilizer now, along with a good rate of fungicidal spray to protect the flag leaf.
At the time of writing, conditions are settled, which will allow farmers the freedom to apply chemicals and fertilizer at their chosen time. The poor weather in May meant this hasn’t always been the case, although the health of crops show that the outcome of missed timings on applications hasn’t done much damage.
The spring barley crops, whether sown in March or early April, have had rather extreme conditions to contend with in their short period of growing. An initial dry and cold period prevented an easy establishment, followed by wet and cold conditions that added stress to the crops.
Spring barley doesn’t thrive when its roots are constantly in wet soil, and this is showing in parts of Scotland where rainfall figures are higher. Some arable areas, particularly those north of Tay, have measured substantial rainfall, with some areas seeing over 160mm falling in the first three months of May. Quite remarkably, most spring barley crops have coped reasonably well and are looking promising, with those sown earlier performing best. There is the possibility that they have shed a few tillers due to the colder, wetter weather, but still appear to have solid potential if the remainder of the season treats them ok.
Towards the end of April, we saw showers breaking the drought period that had caused wheat features to ease back from the previous highs that the dry weather had created. This has continued with futures easing further and bottoming out near £170.
As mentioned in previous updates, world stock levels of wheat and corn are low enough to make the market quite nervy, so even minor concerns that the harvest may be less productive than anticipated will still make these futures trades begin to ascend.
Rains in many areas have eased concerns just now but there is quite a while before we reach harvest in many productive parts of the Northern Hemisphere so we need to keep a close watch on any potential issues arising again.
Old crop wheat and barley continue to be difficult to source and wheat has maintained a price well over £200 for June & July with values close to £210 in some areas. Barley prices continue to firm and are now trading over £180 ex-farm for the feed market.
New crop wheat has followed the futures downwards with harvest wheat now trading around £173 ex-farm for September. The barley market has also slipped slightly and harvest trade of £145 in August is now more the norm. Given how scarce the old crop is, there may be some higher prices paid for the first harvested crops.
As mentioned, there is still time before harvest for these markets to move and the volatility in grain prices is unlikely to diminish all that much with so much uncertainty. Let’s see if the weather has any more tricks up its sleeve!