As mentioned in last month’s report, several winter barley crops were due to receive their pre-harvest treatment which indicated an early harvest for these crops. Despite the winter barley living up to its expectations on earliness, other crops have tended to defer from maturing as quickly as anticipated. This is mostly due to the timing of the rainfall that fell in early June, following on to the long dry weeks through April and May.
Although the rain came too late to stop the winter barley from progressing rapidly to maturity, the winter wheats and spring barleys were still at a stage where the plants reacted differently and, in many cases, redeveloped new tillers which I will mention later in this report. Due to this delay in ripening, it is looking like harvest for most these crops will be more in line with normal timing through late August/early September.
Nearly all the UK winter barley has been harvested and harvest reports are establishing one of the most mixed outcomes recorded. There have been yield reports ranging from around 10t/ha to about 4t/ha which is a significant variation. Generally, farmers growing winter barley are targeting the higher end of this range so, with the yield averages closer to 7-7.5t/ha, it is obviously not a particularly profitable year for winter barley growers.
On the positive side, pre-harvest there was concern for the quality of the barley sample being affected by the poor growing conditions but, although yields have been drastically affected, the specific weights of the grain are overall, very sound.
At the time of writing, very little of the Scottish Borders winter wheat has been cut. Those that have aren’t representative of crops that are still to be harvested. The next week will see much more coming to harvest and it is these crops that will give us a much clearer indication of potential on yield and quality. Much of the information coming from the harvested wheat further south is that yields have been poorer than expected and first impressions from the local cut crops is that a similar scenario could develop here. One of the ongoing issues with the ripening wheat crops is the previously mentioned tillers that grew following the rains in early June. This has led to quite variable maturity which in turn creates difficulties in working out when best to apply pre-harvest treatments or get the crops cut at moistures which won’t cost too much to dry.
Much like wheat, the spring barley harvest has barely started. The next 2-3 weeks will see the main acreage getting cut. In the same vein as wheat, the crop is showing extremely mixed maturity with a vast amount of secondary and tertiary tillering following on from the rain in June.
Most crops have been under great stress through the April/May drought and it is the natural response from the crop to throw tillers when the conditions allow, unfortunately the fact that the crop was quite well advanced when this happened has meant that the differential of maturity between the main plant and the following tillers is quite wide. This again is going to create problems on harvest timing for farmers although there is a slight plus point that the tillers should improve the yield potential somewhat.
Since there has been a sizeable amount of winter barley cut, the feed barley market has been quite active with an export trade giving general support to prices which have been between £120-£125 ex farm. This price could come under pressure when we move more into the spring barley harvest. A large proportion of winter malting barley has been out of quality specification this season due to high Nitrogen test results so much of this has had to be traded into the feed market. Although the tonnages involved with winter malting won’t affect the feed market pricing too much, there is a concern that if spring malting samples fall into feed for similar reasons, there could be extra pressure resulting from significantly more feed barley hitting the short-term market. More spring barley was always going to go for feed anyway since the demand from maltsters will be considerably reduced this season but any extra tonnage downgraded through quality issues will add to the downward pressure on this feed market.
The Nov 20 wheat futures have continued in the range between £160 to £170 which has been the case for practically the whole of the past 4 -5 months. Although there were some signs of market firming during mid-late July, this bullish move has now subsided to a fair degree and the futures price for Nov 20 is currently languishing in the region of £162, the lowest for several weeks. The latest drivers have been reports of a good harvest in Russia and continuing large stocks of corn in the US. However, with reports coming in of poorer wheat harvests through France, Germany and England, we may be nearing the lower end of the spectrum at these levels.