The Gleaner – by Doug Niven

With rain, dull days and frost at times it does not look like the sowing season is going to get off to an early start, though there's still standing water in evidence in some areas.

The daylight is getting longer and when the sun does shine, there is now a bit of heat coming from it as well, but it will take some good drying weather before the drills are out.

The ongoing colder winter weather in December saw barley usage for animal feed up 17% on December, 2016 and over the crop year, July to December, feed barley usage was up 29% on the last marketing year. Barley, as a result, has been in demand into feed compound mills since last harvest.

However, with recent rising barley prices, demand could slow as feed manufacturers look for better value feed material instead of barley.

Ex-farm feed barley was up on the week by £1.80 to £130.20, feed wheat was up 40p to £138.20 and milling wheat was up 20p to £146.90. Old crop wheat values have remained stable, but markets are scarce and not helped by Vivergo's biofuel energy plant remaining closed.

UK wheat exports from July-December were only 273,000 tonnes, compared to 1.09m tonnes for the same period the previous year. Exports are slow as UK wheat values are too high compared to EU and world prices.

Meanwhile, imports totalled 857,000 tonnes as against 840,000 tonnes last season, so this makes the UK a nett wheat importer of 584,000 tonnes for the first six months of the 2017-18 season – we were a nett exporter for the same period last year.

The May, 2018, new crop Liffe wheat futures were up 60p to £138.60 and for November new crop, up 35p to £142.95 per tonne.

The UK imported 1.06m tonnes of maize between last July and December, which is up 19% year-on-year and the highest level of maize imports for the first half of a crop marketing season since 2013-14. Tighter UK wheat supplies have contributed to the larger tonnage of imported maize and the usage of maize in animal and poultry feed in the UK was up 13% year-on-year.

France is the main supplier for maize into the UK, accounting for 23% of the total imported, with Brazil being the next biggest supplier.

France has seen reduced wheat exports and its estimated wheat stocks of 3.25m tonnes at the end of the 2017-18 season will be up by more than 10% from the previous year. This due to farmers in France and across the EU holding large stocks of wheat and maize, so exports from the EU bloc are running way behind the estimated pace as Black Sea countries are more competitive on the world market.

The US share of global wheat exports is forecast to decline by 2.1% over the next 10 years to 13.0% in 2027-28, with the EU anticipated to make up the shortfall by producing 11m tonnes more over the next 10 years. Wheat exports are forecast to reach 39.7m tonnes in 2027-28.

Russia is on track to be the world’s largest exporter of wheat this season, with exports forecast to grow by almost 1m over the next 10 years to 33.9m tonnes.

For maize, US exports are forecast to grow to 55.9m tonnes in 2027-28 from the estimated 48.9m tonnes this season and for soyabeans, the US share of exports is expected to decline by 6.8% to 33.4% over the next 10 years.

EU soft wheat exports for the season to date has hit 12.8m tonnes, compared to 15.9m tonnes last year at this time and maize imports stand at 10.5m tonnes, compared to 6.9m tonnes a year ago.

Indonesia is forecast to be the top global wheat importer over 2017-18 at 12.5m tonnes, compared to 10.2m tonnes in 2016-17. This will see Egypt drop to becoming the second biggest importer despite imports increasing by 800,000 tonnes to 12m tonnes this year.

Russian wheat exports for 2017-18 stand at 24.5m tonnes, compared 17.9m tonnes at this time last year, showing just what a controlling effect it is having on the market.

Soyabean prices rose again last week due to concerns about the impact of dry weather in Argentina. As a result, the yield potential of the crop is said to be at risk and 56% of the crop is said to be 'poor to very poor' condition. Further cuts to the Argentine crop size would be supportive to oilseeds markets as the country is the world’s third largest soyabean exporter and the largest soyameal exporter

Another factor is the Brazilian soya harvest is lagging behind last year’s pace following persistent rainfall.

Oilseed delivered Erith has remained unchanged at £301.50, but the Chicago futures have risen due to the weather issues in Argentina.

Last week, the USDA published its report showing 54m tonnes of soyabean production but is now believed to be below 50m tonnes and the next two weeks will be important to see how the market develops as the crop is assessed and losses measured.

These issues in the southern hemisphere will be ongoing along with the weather problems in Brazil but it will possibly be too late to help the current rapeseed market which is suffering from large stocks of seed and oil.