AFTER a week of decent soil drying weather, most farmers are getting well through with their spring cereal planting and potatoes are now going into almost perfect seed beds – apart from the fact that soil temperatures are still low.

There's event the case, in some parts for some rain to help germination, but a bit of heat would help that as much as anything, especially for those in the east.

While it's been busy down on the farm, the markets have been quiet, remaining flat but there are some weather concerns emerging in the US, where hot and dry conditions across the Plains could have a negative impact on crops.

However, in the past week, rains have improved moisture levels for wheat but with still a few months left before harvest in the US, changes in conditions could yet impact on the crop and subsequently, market prices.

Maize prices are firming in the US as wet weather threatens to delay the start of maize planting and with reduced potential planted acres year-on-year, any delays could further lower acreage intentions.

The US wheat crop this year is forecast at 35m tonnes, compared to 45.5 m tonnes last year and, if realised, this will be a 50-year low. Elsewhere, widespread rain halted the grain harvest in Argentina and more rain is expected later this week.

The only areas of concern nearer to home are in parts of Western Europe, France and Germany, where dry conditions are being monitored – but again, it's quite a long time until harvest.

Dry, cold weather in Southern Russia has had forecasters cutting their wheat crop potential this year again, which is now forecast at around 66m tonnes, compared to 73.3m tonnes in 2016. And, the Ukraine's grain production is forecast down from 66m tonnes last year to 60.9m tonnes tis time.

Their wheat is expected down by 7% year-on-year, barley down 10% and maize down 9%. So, if production is down as expected, it could reduce exports from a country which makes up around 10% of global exports of the three commodities combined. Again, there is still time for a lot of things to change.

With these weather issues, the global wheat forecast is now down to 740m tonnes, compared to an actual 760m tonnes last season.

In February, the UK was a nett importer of wheat for the third month in succession, following 14 consecutive months of being an exporter. For the season to date – which is from last July until February – exports of wheat totalled 1.26m tonnes, while imports reached 1.13m tonnes.

This season’s wheat output was substantially lower on the year at 14.4m tonnes and domestic consumption is set to increase. So, the tight domestic supply and demand situation is part of the reason why UK wheat has become uncompetitive on the world market.

With the way wheat imports and exports are lining up more closely this season, we could see the UK become a nett importer again, if February’s trade patterns continue.

The basis value in the North-east of England, which is the difference between average ex-farm feed wheat prices and UK feed wheat futures, has hit the highest monthly level in nearly two years. At around £4 per tonne the basis value for this region in March was the highest since April, 2014.

However, with demand in this area strong for biofuel, coupled with generally strong demand for animal feed, the regional values pulled above futures. Therefore, with the basis rising once again in March, it would suggest that there is once again strong demand for feed wheat in the North-east of England.

So, May, 2017, old crop feed wheat futures were up 95p to £147.95 and new crop November, 2017, futures were up 95p to £137.95 – which is exactly a price difference of £10 per tonne and November, 2018, futures were down 80p to £140.35 per tonne.

Having reviewed these statistics, the Food and Agriculture Organisation said this week that stocks would end the season at a comfortable level of 25.4% of consumption, equivalent to three months of demand, which is above the 20.5% recorded in 2007-08 when supply tightness sent prices soaring.

Season end stocks appear harder to predict, with forecasts ranging from 246.5m tonnes to 234m tonnes, so will be interesting to see how these figures eventually settle out.

World output of coarse grains, which includes barley, maize and sorghum is expected to rise by 6.4m tonnes to a new record high of 1.353bn tonnes. Most of this reflects higher maize output, which at 1.051bn tonnes stands 12.8m tonnes above last year’s record.

The oilseed rape harvest in the EU – the world’s biggest grower – is expected to pick up this year by 600,000 tonnes year-on-year to 21m tonnes, due to rising yields. Except for winter kill reported in some EU member states such as Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland, planting and growing conditions for oilseeds are good.

However, once again, weather conditions in April and May will be crucial for spring plantings and also in determining the yield and quality of the rapeseed crop.