IT’S THE old story – the weather breaks just as harvest starts on winter barley.

With oilseed rape not far behind, heavy rain and strong winds must give cause for concern for this crop, especially in those that have been desiccated for some time.

The forecast for the end of this past week was ‘mixed’ at best, with more wind and rain set to cause issues across most of the country.

That said, salad potato lifting has now started in the Borders, though rain is not what is required for that job either – although too dry a soil for this process is a problem as well, when small potatoes fall through the web.

However, it is not only here that the weather is a problem but it is an ongoing one in many parts of the world.

Hot dry conditions persist across the US plains which could lead to the lowest domestic spring wheat crop in 15 years and the huge Canadian canola (OSR) crop is forecast to be down to 18.6m tonnes from a previous forecast of 20m tonnes.

Lack of rainfall in Australia is also generating forecasts of its 2017-18 wheat harvest being cut to below 20m tonnes, compared to a recent forecast of 24.1m tonnes and production of 35m tonnes in 2016.

On the other side of the coin, wet weather is holding up harvest operations across Europe, with heavy rainfall in Germany and France. Even given that, though, French wheat is still rated at 66% ‘good to excellent’.

Conversely, drought in Southern Europe has led to increasing concern over this season’s crop output in the region. It is reported that as much as 60-70% of the crop may have been lost in the largest cereal growing area in Spain.

Combines have progressed from barley and oilseed rape into wheat in the south of England this week to begin the earliest harvest in recent memory. So far, quality is excellent with high specific weights and good yields reported.

This means the UK wheat crop forecast is now put at 14.5-15m tonnes, compared to 14.5m tonnes in 2016, even though the GB wheat planted area is put at 3% lower than last year – in Scotland, the wheat area is down 5%.

Winter barley is estimated down 1% in the UK but up 6% in Scotland, while oats up here are forecast up 12% from 2016 to secure its highest area since 1989.

Spring barley in the UK is estimated up 9% but is unchanged in Scotland. The extra acreage in England is partly due to the growing threat of black-grass to their land and oilseed rape is down due to the neonicotinoid insect ban, which allowed the growth of cabbage stem flea beetle threat.

The Scottish oilseed area is estimated up by 6% from last year, mainly due to crop pest issues in England and their reduced growing area, with us likely to account for a greater proportion of the UK total area this year. Maybe someone’s loss will be our gain!

New crop prices have fallen below last week, despite the pound falling to its lowest level against the euro in nine months.

The November, 2017, new crop Liffee feed wheat futures were down 45p on the week to £148.55 and May, 2018, futures were down by a similar amount to £154.40.

UK domestic feed and milling wheat demand remains low and the UK is currently around £10 too expensive to export. Milling wheat prices look to be too strong at present for millers to buy stocks and with a higher proportion of group 1 varieties coming to harvest, millers are not in a great rush to secure stock at present.

As the winter barley harvest nears completion in England, spot prices have increased as exports take place and prices have been helped by the weakening pound.

Yields have been quite mixed and look likely to just reach the five-year average. Nitrogen levels on samples tested to date are satisfactory, averaging around 1.65% N, although screenings have been big in some regions, though merchants are expecting that 50% of winter malting varieties will make the standard without much effort.

Weekly EU soft wheat exports of the 2017-18 season currently stand at 460,000 tonnes, compared to 680,000 tonnes last year at this time; and barley exports total 160,000 tonnes, compared to 250,000 tonnes.

Russia has been forecast to become the highest world exporter of wheat due to an expected harvest close to a record high. Its exports for 2017-18 are forecast at 30.5m tonnes, which is 1.5m tonnes higher than previous estimates. This figure is 500,000 tonnes above those of the EU which had expected to be the world’s largest exporter this season.