Following a long dry and hot spell of weather, this past week has seen a more ‘traditional’ and catchy UK harvest weather period.

Rain has been holding up harvest play for most of the week but this mixed weather tended to be highly localised and not everyone got the same weather pattern each day. However, it looks like Scotland’s biggest crop, spring barley, has come through the challenging spring and summer in better than expected order.

This and continuing weather issues elsewhere, is causing cereal prices to become very jumpy. Wheat prices had risen by £40 since the middle of June, but recently have fallen back by around £12 per tonne as various reports filter through from reports around the world relating to weather and some political activities as well.

The latest crop report from the USDA indicated a larger than expected tonnage of maize and soyabeans, which prompted commodity sell-offs and a sharp fall in prices. They picked up again when it was reported that China was sending a delegation to the US to renew trade talks and resolve the dispute regarding tariffs being applied to US soya imports.

Prices wobbled again when it was announced that the English wheat area was higher than first estimated and we could see a UK wheat crop nearer to 14m tonnes – but there are still some who think it will be nearer to 13.5m tonnes.

On the global front, there are concerns over the final EU wheat and maize tonnage expected from this harvest. Along with ongoing weather issues, politics, sanctions, tariffs and possible government export intervention, this will see a continuing volatility in prices and, as harvest has still some way to go yet, the mixed weather could yet play a part in ongoing prices.

Germany is reporting its grain production could fall to its lowest level in 24 years and 20% below last year’s tonnage. Its maize production is also expected to be 45% down on 2017 and it could be that it will become an importer during 2018-19.

This could have implications for the UK as Germany accounted for 26% of UK wheat imports between 2012-13 and again in 2016-17.

Depending on the size and quality of the UK crop, this reduced German supply may affect the tonnage of UK wheat imports in 2018-19.

Russia recently said it was aiming to cut its grain exports and prices reacted by jumping over £4 per tonne. Whether president Putin was playing mind games or not, since that announcement it appears that Russia is still expected to export around 35m tonnes this season. Up to mid-August it had exported 5.5m tonnes, which is 46% more than the same time last year. It adds fuel to the fire that wheat and agricultural commodities are becoming a political football.

Argentina is bucking the trend of lower grain production this year as it has had ideal weather for wheat production and is expected to produce around 21m tonnes, which would be up on its 18m tonnes of production last year.

UK barley yields have varied a lot, with the average yield estimated at 5.1-5.5t/ha which is slightly below the five-year average of 5.8 t/ha. The spring barley that was planted in the spring before the bad weather set in has mostly been harvested and the barley sown some six weeks later is still waiting to be cut.

It will be then that we will know what yield and quality penalty there will be, as the earlier sown barley has seen better quality than expected given the difficult conditions this year.

Like all cereal crops, straw length has been less than normal and this will not help livestock producers who are keen to lay their hands on all available straw tonnage to supplement their reduced fodder tonnage in store for this coming winter.

Prices of premium malting barley have risen sharply in recent weeks climbing by around 18% since the middle of July. Nitrogen levels are reportedly higher than average in England and this may pose a problem for the malting industry. However, some maltsters have acknowledged this and have raised the limit on N levels.

Feed barley prices are also rising due to the hot and dry conditions across Europe causing availability problems with barley, maize and wheat. Domestic prices for feed barley, again are rising as concerns for sufficient tonnage for winter livestock feed availability.

The English area of oilseed rape for 2018 is estimated higher than in 2017 and would be the first rise since 2012 following six years of decline. This reflected better planting conditions in late summer/early autumn of 2017, compared with the same period in 2016.

Continuing warm, dry conditions in Australia are giving the markets some concern and the forecast is for more dry weather through August and their OSR crops are in need of rain. In the US, hot and dry weather through the plains and Mid-west is also giving concern for their canola (oilseed) crops as well.

Filling the protein gap, the EU was the largest recipient of US soya from April to June this year when 1.25m tonnes were imported – 610,000 tonnes more than in the same period in 2017. Large volumes of Canadian and Black Sea rapeseed are also expected to arrive in the EU in the next few months due to competitively priced product.

Back home, more spring beans are expected to be cut this coming week when the weather is forecast to pick up and let the harvest progress once more. There has been bruchid issues in the crops in the south of England, but there is more optimism for beans in the Northern regions and human consumption quality premiums are expected to be around £20-£25, depending on location.

Yields, however, are expected to be much lower than normal but of satisfactory quality – as always, we will know more once the crop has been harvested.

Salad potato lifting in the south is underway about six weeks behind average due to drought conditions and yields have been 10-15% down. In Scotland, seed crops and early ware crops are being desiccated and should be ready to lift in the first week of September.