THIS WEEK saw the first sign of spring weather this year, when sunshine and temperatures nearly got into double figures.

It was also enough to give the snow that fell during last weekend a quick shift.

So, that all means that a lot of field operations are still waiting to happen. However, given a few good days, it is usually amazing how quickly the land will dry to allow machines back into work.

The recent cold spell across Europe has had limited impact on their winter crops, with little frost damage. The only crops predicted to suffer moderate damage with minor frost kill were in South-east Russia.

While most of Europe appears to have suffered minimal impact from the recent 'Beast from the East', conditions in France have been less than ideal. It is the EU’s largest producer of rapeseed and the cold spell is thought to have caused rapeseed leaves to have frozen unevenly – the impact is uncertain as the crop could compensate for this damage later in the season.

While the recent snow and rain in the UK has delayed spring planting, it does not seem to have left any real problems for the winter crop so far. Throughout the UK, though, there are concerns now regarding the late start to drilling.

It looks like that it will be April before the majority of spring crops will be sown and, as the results from the Scottish December, 2017, survey shows a significant decline in in winter cropping, this is quite an important point for the overall harvest outlook.

There is an 11% decline in the area planted to winter wheat, down 10,900 ha and this potentially places Scotland on course for its lowest level of wheat production since 2013. Using a five-year average from 2013-2017 and with a Scottish wheat yield of 8.5 t/ha, wheat production in 2018 would be around 790,000 tonnes, well below last year’s level of 864,000 tonnes.

The Scottish winter barley planting figure is of even more concern as the area sown is down 20% at 41,600 ha, the lowest level since the 1970s according to the Scottish Government.

Winter plantings in Scotland look to have been significantly affected by last year's rainfall and Met office figures for rainfall during the period from September to November show that 474mm, or more than 18 inches of rain fell during that period – the highest since 2011.

The wet weather and subsequent reduced area planted to winter crops will place an increased focus on the level of spring planting in Scotland, so the next few weeks and months of potential planting weather could have a large impact for market prices this coming season.

Spot ex-farm UK feed wheat prices have risen for the fifth consecutive week and were averaging £143.70 per tonne in the week ending March 15. This is up £5.90 per tonne since the beginning of February.

With movement in global wheat markets varying over this period, the increase in ex-farm feed wheat is likely due in part to the tightness of UK supply and demand and the UK’s balance for wheat is estimated at 2.7m tonnes for the 2017-18 season, which is 15% below last year, resulting in tighter wheat availability. After the first seven months of trade last season, the UK sat as a nett exporter of wheat, but following strong importing months at the end of the season, it ultimately became a nett importer, meaning there could be more imports in the coming months.

In January, the UK exported 33,800 tonnes of wheat – the lowest amount in January since 2013 – and from last July to January, we have sent 303,200 tonnes of wheat abroad, which is 74% less than last season.

Imports between July and January saw a slight increase, up 3% to 989,900 tonnes, but in January they were up 7% on the same month last year.

EU soft wheat exports to date total 13.9m tonnes, compared to 17.7m tonnes last year at this time, though maize imports were up from 7.8m tonnes to 12m tonnes. Barley exports, at 3.9m tonnes, are slightly up from 3.7m tonnes.

May 2018 Liffe feed old crop wheat futures at £144.10 are down £1.65 on the week and November 2018 new crop wheat is down £1.15 to £144.60.

Ex-farm bread milling wheat is up 80p on the week to £149.40, feed wheat is up £1 to £143.70 and feed barley is down 10p to £135.50, Oilseed rape delivered Erith is up £1 to £302.50.