Important updates and advice regarding coronavirus (Covid-19)

Market report - 8th April 2020

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European markets have steadied this week following a period of considerable price volatility seen last month.

Futures rallied €20 to 18-month highs in March as, amidst the pandemic, panic-buying gripped consumer markets and shoppers cleared supermarket shelves of bread, pasta and fresh meat. However, supply chains responded to the challenge and with supermarkets now restocked, demand has eased and markets are looking at their basic fundamentals for new direction.

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Ensure T1 sprays hit the target

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Disease control this season could be more challenging than normal, given the range of crops that are in the ground. We have everything from early-September-sown crops to varieties such as Skyfall which were still being drilled in early-March. 

Variety and drilling date can have a significant impact on the speed at which a crop develops; in particular the time taken to reach BBCH 31.

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Frontrunner - 3rd April 2020

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We're working hard to ensure we comply with all Government guidance and continue to deliver good service to our customers. This week we published three updates on our website to provide information related to Covid-19 for customers and suppliers, including updates on social distancing and customer service, additional information on payments, invoicing and administration, and information for third party hauliers. 

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Welcome dry weather but implications for liquid fertiliser

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The recent dry weather has been incredibly welcome and has finally allowed drills, sprayers and fertiliser spreaders to roll across the country. But, dare I ask, how long will it be before we're looking for some fresh rain?!

There is clearly a massive variation in growth stage and condition of the autumn crops across the country, but the more forward crops have started to get hold of applied nitrogen and actually look quite good .At the other extreme, some of the most backward crops are not that far ahead of the spring cereals that are now going in the ground. As long as reasonable seedbeds can be achieved and drilling doesn't get delayed, the potential for these spring crops should be good. 

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Market report - 2nd April 2020

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Since last week's global rally, UK futures and physical prices have shed around £8/t due to a downturn in domestic demand and strengthening sterling. Consumers in all sectors continue to weigh up the impact of Covid-19 on their businesses but, with sterling firming and old crop becoming too expensive to export, it feels as though time is on their side.

Supermarket demand for bread, meat and eggs is supporting wheat inclusion for feed compounders around the UK, but industrial flour usage demand has crashed as the public no longer require pre-packed flour based products. 

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Frontrunner - 27th March 2020

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Frontier's number one priority will always be the health and safety of our colleagues, customers and those with whom we have contact during our normal business operations. We are actively and continuously monitoring the situation and basing our actions on the very latest advice from the Government. These actions currently include a range of measures such as minimising the number of people at our sites, colleagues working from home where possible, implementing social distancing measures and self-isolating when necessary. We have also implemented service contingency plans in order that we can continue to deliver a service which is 'business as usual', albeit with some changes to the way we operate. Read the full statement from Mark Aitchison, Frontier's Managing Director, here.
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Can you benefit from bare land?

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​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.

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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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Market report - 18th March 2020

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​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.

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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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Cutting your fuel costs with variable rate

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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. 

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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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What are the nutrition implications following the autumn/winter rainfall?

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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.

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Market report - 4th March 2020

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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. 

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Maize seed dressings uncovered

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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. 

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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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Changing times in potato seed treatments

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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. 

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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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