Important updates and advice regarding coronavirus (Covid-19)

Frontrunner - 20th March 2020

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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.

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Frontrunner - 13th March 2020

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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%.

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Frontrunner - 6th March 2020

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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.

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Spring barley drilling dates and yield performance

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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. 

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Frontrunner - 28th February 2020

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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.

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Frontrunner - 21st February 2020

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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. 

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Frontrunner - 14th February 2020

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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.

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Frontrunner - 7th February 2020

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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. 

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Frontrunner - 31st January 2020

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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.

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Frontrunner - 24th January 2020

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The International Grains Council (IGC) published its world Supply & Demand report this week, in which it cut consumption by two million tonnes and year-end stocks by one million tonnes on its previous estimates. However, consumption at 755.9 million tonnes is a record level and 17.6 million tonnes up on last year. Stocks are seen at 271 million tonnes which is also a record high and 5.7 million tonnes up on the year.

Despite world wheat stocks being seen to reach record levels on paper, world wheat prices rallied further this week, driven higher by the fast export pace from the world's major producers. Ukrainian wheat exports have reached 15.6 million tonnes so far this season – 4.2 million tonnes ahead of last year. 

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Frontrunner - 17th January 2020

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US wheat futures markets continued to rally earlier this week, reaching 14-month highs ahead of the US and China signing 'phase one' of their trade deal. Bullish traders were encouraged by the view that, in its part of the agreement, China would make significant purchases of US agricultural products and start buying notable volumes of US wheat. 

However, the text of the agreement stated purchases would be made at market prices based on commercial considerations. In other words, wheat purchases would only be made if the wheat was needed and prices were favourable. 

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Frontrunner - 10th January 2020

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The world wheat market took a bullish turn over the festive season and that trend has continued during the first full trading week of 2020. The Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) wheat futures hit highs not seen since last June. Politics, weather and trade have all combined to encourage prices to move higher.

US wheat futures found particular support when Donald Trump's administration confirmed that 'phase one' of the new trade agreement between the US and China would be signed on the 15th of January. Market bulls got very excited by this news, with rumours that China might fulfil its wheat import quota which would allow it to import up to 9.6 million tonnes of wheat in 2020. 

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Frontrunner - 20th December 2019

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This week the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published its final UK wheat area, yield and production estimates for 2019. There were minimal changes to its provisional estimates but the report included a reminder of how significant the crop was at 16.225 million tonnes.This is just 58,000 tonnes below the provisional estimate – the largest UK crop since 2015 and 2.67 million tonnes up on the 2018 harvest. 

Allowing for a minimal commercial carry out on paper, there is an exportable surplus of approximately 2.9 million tonnes. With 900,000 tonnes of that likely to be shipped by the end of this calendar year, there will be approximately 2 million tonnes to either compete for export or roll over to the 2020 season.

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Frontrunner - 13th December 2019

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Sterling reacted positively to the UK election result, gaining up to 2% versus the euro as the Conservatives secured a majority of at least 78 seats. However, this currency move is negative for wheat prices as it makes imports cheaper and exports more expensive. Wheat prices have had to adjust to counteract this, with London futures easing lower on Friday morning. 

Nevertheless, the fall in UK prices was limited as European and US markets moved higher. US wheat futures rallied on more positive news over the US trade dispute with China. 

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Frontrunner - 6th December 2019

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US wheat futures from the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) put on an impressive performance at the end of last week. Last Friday, they jumped the equivalent of £5 per tonne and saw overall gains of 10% since mid November. The sharp move was allegedly brought about by Southern Hemisphere crop problems – particularly comments from Argentina suggesting that the main wheat production areas would see 37% yield losses. 

However, these gains were not sustainable. US wheat quickly became uncompetitive in the global export market and CBOT futures have now all but lost last week's gains.  

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Frontrunner - 29th November 2019

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This week French wheat futures rallied to highs not seen since mid July. The strong EU export pace continued to progress and has now reached 10.77 million tonnes – 3.7 million tonnes ahead of last year. 

Slow farmer selling and ongoing wet weather conditions which are delaying the French corn harvest and winter wheat planting are both contributing factors to the rise in wheat prices. However, the French are still enjoying more favourable planting conditions than we are in the UK. By 25th November, wheat drilling in France had advanced 6 points during the week to 80% complete, but the crop condition fell 3 points during the week to 75% rated 'good' to 'excellent'.  

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Frontrunner - 22nd November 2019

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Official figures from France illustrate the issues that the current weather pattern is having on 2020 harvest potential in the west of Europe. In its weekly update on Friday, FranceAgriMer advised that French farmers had only advanced their winter wheat planting by 3% to 74% complete, compared to 97% this time last year. Additionally, there was a sharp drop in the crop ratings, with 78% seen as 'good' or 'excellent' which is down 6 points on the week and 4 points on last year.

The UK enjoyed a few dry days earlier this week, allowing land work to resume in some areas. Winter wheat drilling has progressed where conditions have allowed, whilst vast areas of the worst rain-affected counties have remained sodden. 

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Spring crop switch? Seeking information now will increase options

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We've experienced a quite extraordinary start to the cropping year and as I look at news reports showing land under water I can only imagine the extent of the challenges being faced by some farmers. By now, in England, most would have hoped to finish drilling never mind not even started in some cases.

Understandably and economically getting a winter cereal crop is still the goal right up to February, depending on the variety, for those who can. However, for some that ship has already sailed and a new 'Plan B' will be the reality. For many, even those not so dramatically affected, some change of cropped area is underway with a shift towards spring crops inevitable. 

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Frontrunner - 15th November 2019

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Russian wheat exporters regained their competitive edge this week, securing significant sales to Egypt for delivery early January. Egypt bought 465,000 tonnes at just over $232 per tonne including freight and, although the two cheapest cargoes were from Ukraine, all the remaining 345,000 tonnes were of Russian origin. 

Russia was clearly determined to maintain their status as the leading supplier to Egypt, after having lost out to France in the previous week's tender.

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Frontrunner - 8th November 2019

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Concern over new crop wheat planting has driven prices this week. With an estimated winter wheat planted area of just 50%, compared to 95% this time last year, new crop wheat values moved up £7/mt.

Old crop wheat values have followed the new crop as farm selling remains light and domestic consumers still need plenty of cover for the balance of the crop year. 

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