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Frontrunner - 14th March 2024

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WHEAT

  • USDA trim stocks

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its March World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) late last Friday afternoon, trimming end stocks for both world wheat and corn which helped to lift prices.

There were minor production changes for the wheat balance sheet, with Argentina up 400,000 tonnes to 15.9 million tonnes, Australia up 500,000 tonnes to 26 million tonnes, Russia up 500,000 tonnes to 91.5 million tonnes and the EU down to 133.65 million tonnes. This left overall world production up one million tonnes on February at 786.7 million tonnes. Consumption rose by 1.5 million tonnes - one million of that being for the EU – and this left world stocks 600,000 tonnes lower than February and 12.3 million tonnes down on the year, totalling 258.83 million tonnes.

Overall world corn production was 2.3 million tonnes lower, with South Africa at 1.3 million tonnes, Russia at 400,000 tonnes and both Mexico and Ukraine at one million tonnes each. However, this was offset by the Argentinian production estimate climbing by one million tonnes – taking the total world production above 1.12 billion tonnes. Consumption rose by 1.5 million tonnes on February, leaving end stocks down by 2.5 million on last month but still 18 million up on the year at 319.63 million tonnes in total.

  • Nervous shorts rally wheat prices

The oversupply of old crop wheat from Russia, the EU, Ukraine, the USA and more recently Australia and Argentina, has encouraged speculative traders to build near record short positions in the world's grain futures markets. This has added weight onto prices that have fallen to their lowest levels since 2020. However, it would appear that the USDA's lower world wheat and corn stock estimates, uncertainty over Brazilian corn production and concerns for 2024 wheat harvest potential have triggered some profit-taking buyers. Mid-week, London wheat futures rallied to a peak £12 above the recent contract lows.

Brazil's National Supply Company (CONAB) see the Brazilian corn output one million tonnes lower than its previous estimate, down to 112.75 million tonnes, which is significantly less than last year's record crop of 131.9 million tonnes. The USDA doesn't share this view, however, estimating a larger cropped area and yield of 124 million tonnes. It also disagrees with Brazilian wheat production estimates, pitching 8.1 million tonnes in comparison to CONAB's 9.588 million.

The French Farm Ministry left the French winter wheat crop condition unchanged on the week at 68% 'good / excellent'. Although significantly lower than last year's total of 96%, many believe that French crop conditions will be even worse than currently predicted due to the ongoing wet weather, similar to that endured by UK growers.

Analysts, Strategie Grains, estimate UK 2024 wheat production at 11.7 million tonnes, but with no end in sight to the wet weather conditions others see a smaller cropped area below 11 million tonnes. November 2024 UK London wheat futures moved to their highest so far - above the old crop May '24 contract - to over £20 per tonne.

  • Markets shrug off China cancellations

Russian wheat values are reported to be in continued decline, with 11.5% minimum protein wheat trading at $193 FOB - the sterling equivalent is little better than £150. Added pressure may be put on the market by a promising new crop situation, with the Russian Farm Ministry declaring that 94% of its crop is in reasonable condition, having come through winter. According to the Russian Grain Union, Russian 2024 harvest wheat estimates are put at 92-93 million tonnes.

News of further cancelled US wheat sales to China - this time totalling 264,000 tonnes - was another unwelcome headline during the week. Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) futures struggled to match the gains by European wheat futures as China's cancellations reached 504,000 tonnes. So far this season, US wheat shipments sit at 13.37 million tonnes, 16% behind last year's pace. Last Friday, the USDA cut its estimate for this season's US wheat exports by 400,000 tonnes, down to 19.32 million tonnes. Stocks will therefore rise by the same to 18.3 million tonnes, up 2.8 million tonnes on the year.


BARLEY

New crop malting barley prices have firmed across Europe this week, as frustrating weather patterns continue to hamper spring barley sowing in many key malting barley areas.

Maltsters have been looking to buy in a market with very limited offers, pushing prices higher. The malting barley market is now taking direction almost entirely from the weather and this is likely to be the case for the next few weeks. On paper, the EU and UK are likely to have a sizeable spring barley area, however, with plantings happening later than is ideal the weather between now and harvest will be important for determining malting quality and subsequently malting barley premiums.

It has been a quiet week in feed barley, with little spot demand and a steady flow being sold as growers look to clear stores and sell for cash flow. New crop feed barley trading is very quiet, with more buyers than sellers at current levels.

Frontier is offering a range of marketing options to support growers to trade malting barley and manage their risk. Guaranteed minimum premium contracts, futures related distilling contracts and malting barley pools are just a selection of the contracts that are offered.


OILSEED RAPE

Rapeseed values have seen a sharp appreciation in the last week as a number of factors have had an impact on the market simultaneously. Vegetable oil prices have been stronger on the back of increased buying from the biofuel sector, allowing for crushers to pay higher prices for the seed as their processing margins increase. An additional factor is the record fund short position on MATIF rapeseed futures. Should funds decide to exit these positions, it may result in a price spike as is currently being seen.

A lower Brazilian soybean production estimate from CONAB has also added confusion to a market which has a very wide range of crop production estimates. The key factors for rapeseed prices going forward are European import flow and the eventual carryover of seasonal ending stocks.


 PULSES

Unlike other commodities, old crop feed bean markets have stood still over the past week. The main reason for this is that several feed compounders are now unable to take all the beans they have already bought and are asking to roll any unmoved balances through to June and July. We still believe that this core demand needs further supply, but farm beans are still available, albeit more in the nearby positions.

Questions remain over the planted area and condition of winter beans sown between October and late February. Beans planted in the south and east are generally ok, but in Lincolnshire and the East Midlands many crops weren't and it is now too late to drill. There will need to be a big improvement in soil moisture and temperatures to allow a suitable seedbed for viable spring bean crops.

The Frontier bean pools are still open and we have seen increasing interest and commitment over the past week, which is not surprising given the uncertainty and potential volatility ahead.


 FERTILISER

  • Urea/AN

Global urea offers continue to 'tread water', leading to lower prices in order to build order books.With pricing applications currently under way across Europe and the UK and stocks looking ample, little interest is being shown to North African and Baltic producers.

Trade flows are now changing focus to South and North American markets and with higher production rates coming out of China, forward values look to be slightly weaker. One glimmer of hope for producers is the likelihood of an Indian tender for May shipments.

Domestically, AN remains tight, with CF Industries withdrawing its April offer and limited production being reported for May. Imported AN also looks to be tight in supply.It's recommended that any spring purchases are made sooner rather than later to guarantee a timely delivery. Growers in England should also remember to follow guidelines on urea inhibitor inclusion from 1st April onwards, for both granular and liquid applications.

  • UAN/Liquid

Liquid applications are continuing across the UK, with markets remaining competitive and scheduling of delivery offering an advantage over solid products as long as tanks are in place.Frontier exclusively offers Limus Perform, an inhibitor for liquid UAN that can be included at the application timing. For a number of seasons now it has shown excellent performance in reducing volatilisation, increasing yields and contributing to a reduced carbon footprint on farm, supporting more sustainable crop management strategies.

  • Straights/PKs

After some weakening during late February values remain stable in both phosphates and potash, however, stock positions are tight across the UK.At this stage of the season, suppliers are nervous about bringing in new vessels and therefore deliveries for new orders could take two to four weeks. As a result it's worth assessing your requirements now to ensure applications can be made at the correct times.

It is also worth bearing in mind the effects that this year's winter weather will have had, with P and K levels being reduced either by heavy rainfall or even flooding. It's a good idea to assess crop conditions and take remedial action in cases of poor rooting or other deficiencies to ensure full crop potential.


Please speak to your local Frontier contact or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information or advice related to any of the topics and services mentioned in this report.

To be notified each time this report is published in the future, you can also subscribe at www.frontierag.co.uk/blog/subscribe to ensure you always have the latest market insights.


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