IN the Borders we had 49.5mm or nearly two inches of rain in November, according to faithful weather watchers, the Aitchison family’s weather records at Lochton – and for the year to end of November it stands at 549.5 mm, or just over 21.5 inches.

Following a long dry hot summer, the cumulative total seems high but looking forward we are apparently expecting some big changes over the next few decades. According to the UK Met Office, summers in the UK could be more than 5°C hotter than they are today and winters could be 30% wetter. Scotland could see a rise of up to 4°C in summer, compared to 5.4°C in the south of England.

Winter days are also said to be due to get warmer by up to 3°C in England and 2.5°C in Scotland. The chance of a summer as hot as this past one could happen every other year by 2050, according to the modelling.

Predictions also show there will be an increase in flooding and droughts. Summer rainfall will drop by up to 50% in the driest regions and increase by 40% in the wettest areas and in winter there will be an average 20% increase in the amount of rain across the country.

There remains an ongoing concern over dryness around Russia and the Black Sea region, where crops are struggling to germinate, but recent rainfall will go some way to help those growing crops.

Domestic and futures markets saw a rise last week and May, 2019, Liffee feed wheat futures were up £2.35 to £176.60 and earlier this week were up again to £178. November, 2019, futures were up £1.55 to £160 and this means that November futures have now recovered the ground lost during the past month, closing at prices last seen at the end of October.

This rise has been supported due to recent weakening of sterling relative to the euro and a potential easing of US-China trade tensions. Sterling continues to be battered by Brexit uncertainty, falling earlier this week to €1.0809 equivalent – the weakest point against the euro since early September.

Due to the UK now having an exportable surplus of wheat, a weaker pound should increase the attractiveness of our grain to foreign buyers and maybe support higher domestic prices. Already, ex-farm bread milling wheat was up 80p this past week to £176.50, feed wheat was up 60p to £167.60 and feed barley was up 60p to £163.80.

Since the start of the 2018-19 season last July, the gap between ex-farm feed wheat and feed barley has narrowed. The UK average premium for feed wheat over feed barley in July, 2018, was £20.30 per tonne, whereas the average premium in November, 2018, was £1.50 per tonne.

This is the lowest price gap for the month of November since 2011, when feed wheat price compared to barley across the UK averaged 60p per tonne. Should the wheat premium continue to rise, then compounders may begin to include higher proportions of other ingredients in their feed rations going forward, such as barley.

However, with imported maize prices remaining competitive versus domestic wheat and barley over the last two months, this may also influence ration ingredients.

US exports continue to be lower than last year, at this time, due to the price being too high compared to Russia during this season. In Argentina, harvest is around 40% complete and in line with last year’s harvest, but Argentina will be competing with the EU, Russia and the US wheat to supply North Africa. Quality issues in Argentina due to rain damage may be an issue for their export potential.

The first official estimates of UK supply and demand from AHDB put the surplus available for free stock or exports at 800,000 tonnes. Although this figure is 233,000 tonnes higher than in 2017-18 and 180,000 tonnes more than the AHDB early balance sheet figure for 2018-19, this is still well below the previous five-year average of 1.54m tonnes.

Human and industrial consumption of wheat is forecast to fall by10% compared with 2017-18, driven largely by a reduction in usage by the bioethanol sector. With Vivergo Fuels announcing it ceased production at the end of September, 2018 and Ensus announcing a pause in production from the end of November, 2018, these forecasts assume that both plants will remain off line for the rest of 2018-19.

Lower human and industrial usage are forecast to be partly countered by higher demand for animal feed. This, combined with a smaller crop and opening stocks than in 2017-18, plus a drop in wheat imports, partly in favour of maize, means that UK wheat supplies are forecasted to remain historically tight.

Maize imports are forecast to rise to 2.105m tonnes – or a five-year high – and this is due to price competitiveness compared to other cereals.

Early GB planting intentions for the 2019 harvest suggest a rise in wheat area by 4%. If correct, this would result in 1,864,000ha for harvest 2019 – the highest wheat area since 2014.

The winter barley area is also expected to rise, this time by 13% to 444,000ha, while the area of spring barley is anticipated to fall by 3% to 735,000ha – that would be the first drop in area since 2014.

There has been a lack of UK domestic barley sales this past week as prices have eased but cargoes of malting barley continue to leave the UK for mainland Europe and more is required in the new year and this has resulted in malting barley prices remaining firm.

Lack of rainfall across mainland Europe continues to affect river traffic, with water levels continuing to be too low for bigger vessels – and as rain largely falls as snow in their water catchment areas, it may take until late January before there is deeper water for larger cargoes to travel.

Oilseed rape area in the UK next year is expected to drop by 3% to 582,000ha. This is due to some crops either failing to germinate due to dry conditions or, more likely, were destroyed by flea beetle which was considerably higher than recent years, hence the overall decline.

After a dry, late summer there are continuing concerns about the condition of some of the main European crop-growing areas. France is reporting a reduction of 23.6% in crop area and this would be down 18.8% on the five-year average and Germany is looking at an 18.1% reduction, again from dry conditions.

Oilseed rape delivered Erith was down £1 to £334.50 but prices rose by £3 per tonne earlier this week. At the height of the UK harvest, the price of rapeseed for delivery into Liverpool was at precisely the same level as it currently stands for delivery this month.

Over that period of time, the market has occasionally been £10/tonne higher but also £10/tonne lower, summing up the lack of direction in recent months. The market is struggling with a number of bearish factors, including weak crude oil values, a lack of clarity on the US/China trade dispute and good progress with spring soyabean plantings in Brazil and Argentina.

Oats saw a rise in area this past year and is expected to have 9% more acres apportioned to it in 2019 – this would see the GB oat area rise by just under 50% since 2015 and partially this because oats are seen as a ‘healthy’ food source.

However, this is also due to the requirement for other break crops to replace OSR in the rotation and given the poor profitability prospects of pulses. In addition, the value of oats, like other combinable crops, has risen in the past year, with average UK milling oat prices in September, 2018, more than £50 per tonne above last year’s price.