IN the Eastern Borders we’ve had some very mixed weather this month with wind, rain and sun, plus enough rain for the potato irrigators to be unused for quite some time – if at all.

Temperatures have been variable too and as we approach the longest day, and the Royal Highland Show, most people here are still not yet into summer clothing, with cold winds and yet more wet weather forecast for this week. Crops look well in the ground and forecasts of a 15m tonne wheat crop for the UK look to about right following a 14m tonne crop last year due to the dry weather.

The USDA has forecast in 2019-20 that an extra 46m tonnes of wheat will be produced in the world than last year, to give a record global production of 777.5m tonnes for this coming harvest. I read recently that 70% of the grain produced in the US is fed to animals from 260m acres of land. This area is increasing all the time there as land that used to be in trees has been cleared to make way for producing feedstuffs for livestock.

Scientists say that carbon emissions from the global livestock sector account for 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions – which is more than the global transport sector. Could that be right?

They say the beef and dairy industries account for 65% of all livestock emissions which is supposedly killing the planet. But we need to eat food and would there be enough vegetables, pulses and grain if the whole world population turned vegetarian? We hear about saving the planet and living with a fragile ecosystem but those that shout loudest don’t seem to have a problem jetting back and forward frequently and mostly in first class seats across the Atlantic pond and when on the ground living in large houses, hiring large buildings for events, using up loads more unnecessary energy and power.

A lot of the grain that is not used for livestock goes into making bread, beer, alcoholic drinks etc and other staple foods which we require to eat to survive, but there should be a compromise and people are allowed to get on with our own lives and decide what they want to eat.

Brexit has cost the UK taxpayer £93m to date, produced an awful lot of hot air and no doubt loads of greenhouse gas emissions as well, with nothing to show for all the time and money wasted!

Back to what is happening with commodity prices – in the US wet weather has continued to disrupt cropping and currently their maize planting is 30% behind the five-year average. This will reduce the USA’s production and stocks figures going forward.

However, there are indications of a record US wheat crop, despite the widespread rainfall of late. The winter wheat ratings are put at 64% ‘good to excellent’, compared to just 37% at this time last year.

In Russia and Ukraine, there are concerns regarding wheat in hot and dry weather conditions. This could impact on crop yield as harvest starts later this month.

Old and new crop UK wheat prices have dropped this past week as Defra figures confirm a large 1.98m tonne carryover, which is 266,000 tonnes higher than a year ago. The smaller tonnage harvested in 2018 meant that stocks were tight, but with minimal exports and more maize used for animal feed, this has resulted in extra tonnage to carry into next harvest.

The result of this is that November Liffee feed what futures dropping last week from £157 down to £152 per tonne. This means that new crop November, 2019, feed wheat futures have lost over 10% of their value since the turn of the year and unless there’s an unlikely weather ‘issue’ before harvest, there is little reason to expect any substantial price rises.

UK wheat is currently priced at an £8 discount to French wheat and this would normally make UK wheat competitive for export, but cheaper offers from the Black Sea area are undercutting UK port prices. With a bigger UK 2019 harvest forecast and 83% in ‘good to excellent’ condition, farmers will be limited by harvest movement options. This will be reflected in prices, which would look to be under pressure at that time.

Many cereal-based products have struggled over the last year as bread expenditure has dropped and the overall number of traditional sandwiches eaten in the home has decreased over the past five years. This trend is expected to remain challenging going forward. Biscuit expenditure has increased, especially for ‘healthier’ options, with consumers now more aware of dietary requirements.

Oats have also seen a significant amount of new product development. Added-value oats have been performing well and oat products are no longer confined to the breakfast table, with increases in the snacking and drinks market. Oats are seen as a healthy food as part of the growing free-from trend, being gluten free and high in fibre.

The UK milling industry used less wheat for the season to date (July-April) where 5.1m tonnes was used and represented a reduction of 9.5% compared to the previous year. This was mainly due to the loss of a bioethanol plant which was still running in April, 2018.

Brewers, maltsters and distillers for the same period used 14.1% less wheat due to maize being more price competitive for distilling, but barley usage has remained similar with an increase of just 0.8%.

A week of volatility with wheat futures saw the barley trade quieten and lower values for new crop and lack of old crop supply has been behind that. There is still some export trade to Spain, but at lower levels than seen recently.

As barley prices drop, though, this has encouraged some interest from compounders. Feed barley discount to wheat at around £30 per tonne means more inclusion in feed rations and with the continued uncertainty regarding Brexit and the UK’s ability to export into the EU after October 31, it is important to maximise UK demand wherever possible.

If the UK relies on the world market after October, then the market is highly competitive, quite irregular and more volatile. With more rain across Europe this past week and including the UK, this has seen prices for malting barley drop as the spring barley crop looks now to have great potential.

With an expected increase in winter barley of 14% in the UK and a move to higher yielding varieties, production could see a sustained growth into 2019 harvest and exports will have to rise significantly as total barley production will potentially reach 7.2m tonnes.

Oilseed prices dropped last week when the outlook for soya planting in the US improved. The total planted area went up by 10% last week, but they are still only 39% planted compared to 86% at the same time last year and a 10-year average of 75%.

This is the slowest soya planting progress seen since 1980 and these late sown acres are expected to yield well below the trend, possibly by up to 7%. Nonetheless, forecasters have cut EU oilseed rape production back to 17.8m tonnes for the 2019 harvest. This is 11% below last year and would make it the lowest crop for 11 years. Imports will be required to fill the gap and 5.4m tonnes are expected to come into the EU, mainly from Canada, Ukraine and Australia.

After a tough 2018 potato growing season, Scottish potatoes have become increasingly important to maintain supply this year. Scotland avoided the worst of last year’s drought, with production only slightly below average and as the season has progressed an increasing proportion of GB stocks have been held north of the border.

Previously responsible for 25% of GB levels, figures up to the end of March show that Scottish growers now account for 34% of total grower held stocks. A mixture of heavy demand and issues with ambient storage saw above average drawdown between November to January in England and Wales.

However, drawdown rates in Scotland remained steady, with better quality helping potatoes keep better in stores. Our market has remained fairly stable, with large quantities of old crop potatoes being marketed well into the new season and this helped reduce dependence on new crop at the start of the season.

The relatively healthy situation north of the border means that Scottish production has been supporting demand down south. Since harvest, Scottish potatoes have made a slow and steady exit from grower stores, heading south of the Border and over the channel to mainland Europe. Many potato stores are now empty, which should bode well for the coming harvest.

Early potatoes trickling on to the market and there’s anecdotal evidence that the first crops were making £5000 per tonne, but that has now dropped substantially as more crop is ready for the harvester.

While the 2019 maincrop appears to be coming on well at this stage, the amount of reserves left in Scotland will largely determine opening prices. With stores emptying fast, there could be grounds for some cautious optimism – indeed with the rain this past week, crops are growing well too.