Although the sun is out (as I write this anyway) I recognise that many areas of land are still plenty wet enough, and getting jobs done is tricky enough without getting covered in mud as soon as you hit a waterlogged bit of ground. That said, the upside is that many growers will be reviewing cropping plans on almost a weekly basis to ensure they are reflective of current conditions.
With potentially 50% of the UK winter wheat crop sown there remains, subject to your area, a significant proportion of land yet to be planted. Spring crop opportunities remain unpredictable so, if some bare land is looking a likely scenario for the farm on which you work, you may want to think about the opportunities associated with it.
The impact of coronavirus continues to be the primary driver for financial and commodity markets. World wheat prices saw significant volatility this week, driven by exaggerated moves in foreign exchange rates and high nearby consumer demand. The Bank of England cut UK interests rates to a record low of just 0.1% and, with the British government introducing other financially supportive measures for the UK economy, sterling fell by 6.5% versus the euro. As a result, London wheat futures rallied to new contract highs for November 2020 and, from the lowest to the highest, achieved a spread in prices of £12/t. The euro also fell versus the US dollar, adding value to European wheat prices. Demand for bread products increased as panic buying cleared supermarket shelves, brought millers back to the market, and added weight to the increase in old crop wheat prices.
Currently, the underlying issue for the market is nervousness around global trade execution due to Covid-19. Buyers are still out there (Tunisia and Algeria for example), but usual offers are down in volume by circa 50%.
The kill rate in the broiler (chicken meat) market has increased drastically on the back of shoppers panic buying. The same is also now true of bread; supermarket shelves are empty and the demand for wheat is significantly higher than first forecast. However, this could be the short-term picture. Due to so many individuals stockpiling products, and with the hospitality and leisure industry likely to be heavily impacted by the recent government advice around social distancing, medium-term demand for meat and cereals could be much lower.
The impact of coronavirus on global economies has been the overwhelming factor driving wheat prices this week. The widespread panic-selling seen in stocks and shares and crude oil spilled into all commodities, pushing world wheat prices down.
US wheat futures fell to lows not seen since last September and their losses since mid-January rose to 15%. However, the impact of this on UK wheat futures was reduced as sterling lost ground to the euro following the Bank of England base rate cut of 0.5%.
I'm sure farmers across the UK breathed a collective sigh of relief yesterday, as it was confirmed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the tax break on red diesel would remain in place for the agricultural industry.
Over the past week, farmers have been steeling themselves for a potential 50% rise in fuel costs following reports that the tax relief was going to be scrapped altogether as part of the 2020 Budget. While the news is a positive outcome for the industry the Chancellor has, however, announced that other sectors will be stripped of the tax exemption in two years' time.
Despite the increasing spread of coronavirus and concerns surrounding its potential impact on demand, world wheat markets have managed to tread water this week with overall minimal change. International trade does not appear to have been affected yet, with importing countries such as Tunisia, Korea and Thailand continuing to make wheat purchases.
Although Friday morning saw price volatility, US wheat futures were trading within one cent of last week's closing prices. Concerns may be greater for supply rather than demand. Furthermore, a Chinese government working group stated that farmers must not let grain output decline this year despite coronavirus ensuring food security.
If you were to ask an agronomist the question, "When should I drill my spring barley?" the most likely answer would be, "In the spring".
While completely correct, the spring covers a fairly significant period in the first quarter of the year and within that time frame, depending on when you decide to take action, you can experience some very different outcomes. With that in mind, it's important to really dissect the spring drilling window to get a better understanding of the potential results we're dealing with.
Well, it won't be surprising to learn that many soils will have lost nitrogen via leaching.
To demonstrate the impact, AHDB has produced a map to show the winter rainfall classification. This forms part of the RB209 book method for producing a Soil Nitrogen Supply (SNS) index and is a good starting point as you begin to look at your nitrogen programme for this spring.
However, rather than rely solely on this information, our team at Frontier decided to carry out the measurement of Soil Mineral Nitrogen (kg N/ha) at a number of nationwide trial sites. The findings are outlined in the below table.
Wheat markets have rallied this week, bouncing back from the sell-off that we saw last week as a result of the coronavirus.
London wheat futures recovered £4 per tonne from Friday's low point, also encouraged higher by sterling weakness versus the euro. A settled UK weather outlook is encouraging for potential spring plantings but winter drilling is now done. Unfortunately, the prospect of a 2020 wheat crop that is little more than half the size of the 2019 crop is a concerning likelihood.
The relentless wet weather is likely to mean that more growers will be growing maize this season; either for the first time, or for the first time in a long time. Maize is a crop that needs careful management and seed treatments are an important part of that management that have seen some significant changes.
Most maize growers will be aware of the challenges we now face with the loss of the active ingredient methiocarb; best known as the seed treatment Mesurol. This seed treatment has for years provided class leading bird repellence, particularly against rook damage and other corvids, to the extent that some will have forgotten quite how damaging these pests can be.
The spread of the coronavirus has triggered record-breaking falls in stock market values this week, with crude oil losing a quarter of its value since the beginning of 2020. This negativity has inevitably spilled into grain markets and world wheat prices have dropped 6% since last Friday's close.
There are concerns over the impact the virus could have on supply chains and demand, although international trade appears to be continuing as normal at present. Futures markets are oversold but, should the virus continue to spread, it seems likely that global wheat prices will continue to come under pressure.
Farmers in Russia have enjoyed the opposite of the dire weather conditions endured by UK farmers. Prolonged settled weather during the autumn and a mild winter allowed Russian farmers to exceed their winter wheat planting expectations and there are limited signs of any damaging winter kill.
Various analysts are now suggesting that the Russian 2020 wheat harvest will be the second highest on record. Estimates range from 75-85 million tonnes with the record being harvested in 2017 at 85 million tonnes.
Last autumn saw the withdrawal of Monceren DS, a powder potato seed treatment containing pencycuron. Many growers have relied on Monceren to control the pathogen Rhizoctonia solani. Left untreated, this pathogen can cause crop-damaging symptoms such black scurf.
Despite the withdrawal of this specific product, the outlook is still good and includes a number of effective specialist liquid treatments. Many of the growers we advise have been moving away from powder treatments anyway with growers reporting concerns about powder formulations on belt planters where it can be difficult to get the dust formulation to stick and retain on tubers.
US wheat futures markets eased again this week, dropping to price levels not seen since December.This drew Black Sea and European markets lower too. There is still no evidence of any US wheat export business to China following the signing in mid-January of 'phase one' of the China/US trade deal, and US wheat is not competing for business in other markets such as North Africa.
This week, Egypt held a tender for wheat to be supplied during April. They bought 180,000 tonnes from both Russia and Romania at prices that, on average, were $6/t below their previous tender from France two weeks ago.
First things first – the window for Countryside Stewardship applications is now open!
As of 11th February, farmers, woodland owners, foresters and land managers now have the ability to request 2020 application packs. Information and forms are available on the gov.uk website and you can also ask for your application pack by email, choosing whether to receive it electronically or by post.
World wheat markets have managed to achieve modest gains this week, supported by ongoing strong international export trade but lacking any fresh price drivers. Futures remain a good 4% below their January highs. China remains a primary focus, with the combination of their wheat buying activity, the coronavirus outbreak and their trade deal with the US creating a recipe of uncertainty.
Following the signing of 'phase one' of the US/China trade deal, US traders expected to see a wave of wheat buying activity as China began their obligation to purchase US agricultural products.
Following losses of 4% during the last third of January, around £2 per tonne has been added to world wheat prices since the market closed on Friday.
There is little fresh news to influence prices but wheat exports from the EU and Ukraine continue to move at a strong pace. EU exports climbed to 16.4 million tonnes by the 2nd February, compared to just 9.9 million tonnes at the same time last year. Despite strike action hindering logistics, French ports shipped their biggest volume of wheat for six years during January.
Having rallied to 18-month highs early last week, world wheat markets have subsequently taken a negative turn with US Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) wheat futures leading the move lower.
Expectations for sizeable US wheat export trade to China following the signing of 'phase one' of the US/China trade agreement so far has failed to materialise, triggering a fund sell-off. The worsening coronavirus outbreak has added to the negative market sentiment with a perception that it will inhibit trade to China. European markets have followed and London wheat futures have now lost £7 from the recent highs.
At this point of the year, I find that New Year's resolutions tend to have gone one of three ways. They are either still going strong (well done if that's you), have merely been forgotten about, or have fallen at the wayside because although you tried, one small blip meant you had to shelve it for next year so you can try again.
While I'm often in the group who start with the best of intentions but don't quite see them through, there is one 'resolution' that I simply haven't been able to ignore: adapting to change.
This year, food production is under pressure from many different angles and regardless of your view on the validity of change, we can be certain that UK agriculture will need to adjust in order to survive and thrive