By Doug Niven

The first half of December has seen some slightly better weather with less rainfall than in previous weeks and potato harvesters have been making attempts to salvage some of the remaining crop in the ground. With the recent frost there is some crop loss but the biggest proportion of crop appears to have escaped the frost damage.

As we approach Christmas and the end of the year we tend to look back at how the year has compared to previous ones and we are also about to start a new decade as well.

This year has been one of the hottest on record and the past decade from 2010 to 2019 has almost certainly been the warmest in records dating back to the 19th century, and the past five years from 2015 have also been the hottest on record.

This year temperatures have been 1.1C above pre-industrial levels, putting 2019 on course to be the second or third hottest year to date on record. The past year has also seen droughts in many parts of the world and two major heatwaves in Europe in late June and July with a new temperature record of 38.7C set in the UK and one of the main impacts is more erratic rainfall patterns.

This poses a threat to crop yields and, combined with population increase, will mean considerable food security challenges for vulnerable countries in the future.

The year 2016, which began with an exceptional 'El Nino' weather phenomenon in the Pacific that pushes up global temperatures, remains the hottest year on record and each decade from the 1980s has been warmer than the previous decade.

The UK was not the only country in Europe to have a new temperature record as France, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg all experienced new temperature high records in June and July this year.

In November last month 131.5mm or 5.17 inches of rain fell at Coldstream Mains in the Borders which was 111% higher than the current average November rainfall and compares to 59.5mm or 2.23 inches in November last year.

In 2018, at Coldstream Mains, 652.5mm or 25.64 inches fell in the whole year and up to the end of November this year 779mm or 30.67inches have fallen and with still one month to go, hence the reason for so much winter crop still not sown and a large Ha of potatoes still to lift. England received 143% of the long-term average rainfall in August-October, making 2019 the third wettest year in the last 20 and explains why there is a bigger percentage of potatoes to lift and wheat to plant in certain parts of the country south of the Border.

At Lochton which is only a mile from Coldstream Mains 110.7mm of rain feel in November, and at Bee Edge, near Coldingham, near to the east coast and the North sea some 20 miles or so from Coldstream, 183mm or 7.2 inches of rain fell last month and this just shows that in a very small area how the rainfall figures can vary so much.

UK growers intend to plant 1.65m ha to wheat for harvest 2020 compared to 1.82m ha in 2019, a drop of 9%, and this year will be a swing to spring cropping with growers intending to plant 28% more spring barley at 915,000ha, the highest area since 1988.

The oat area is expected to increase again for harvest 2020 to a total of 200,000ha of winter and spring oats, a 10% increase on last year. The area planted to wheat in future months with winter varieties could well see yield and development penalties. In other wet years we have seen yields impacted and the most recent example is harvest 2013, when the wet 2012 autumn led to yields of just 7.4t/ha, 5% below the previous five year average.

With wheat planting possibly down by as much as 10-15%, depending on weather to come, for harvest 2020 and predicting yields of 7.5-8.0t/ha this could see a UK harvest wheat production next year of 11.6-13.2m tonnes which would be a lot less than the 16.283m tonne production in 2019.

Poor weather in France has continued to hinder winter crop planting with winter barley now 91% complete and 83% of their winter wheat crop. French crop conditions are not looking good with only 73% of their crop rated as good to excellent and down nine percentage points at the same time last year.

The Black Sea region has increased its wheat planted area and conditions are looking good there, so this could make up for the predicted fall in European wheat production. Russia has expanded its winter wheat area again with 18.2m ha of sowing complete, up from 17.6m ha and their winter crop conditions are better than last year following recent rainfall.

Conditions of winter wheat in the US are also in line with previous years with 52% of the crop in good or excellent condition at the end of November and milder temperatures than usual.

China is the world’s largest grain producing country and is the second largest wheat producer after the US. China’s grain production is put at 663.84m tonnes of which maize represents 260.77m tonnes and wheat production at 133.59m tonnes which is up 2.19m tonnes on last year.

From Friday, November 29, until Friday, December 6, the value of the pound continued to gain relative to the euro, up from £1 = €1.1739 to £1= €1.1871 and this is the highest closing price since May 15, 2017, and more than 10% stronger against the euro from the lows recorded in August this year when £1= €1.0767 and the stronger pound means cheaper imports and more expensive exports.

Due to the difficult drilling conditions and production concerns for harvest 2020, the price of new crop feed wheat futures gained consistently from September until mid-November but further gains in UK feed wheat futures have been difficult to achieve and last week new crop futures were down £2.25 on the week to close at £155.00/tonne, which last year at this time stood at £157 per tonne.

May 2020 old crop futures fell £3.75 down to £147.50 /tonne which last year at this time stood at £162.59 per tonne and this drop in prices is due to the gains in the value of the pound which has resulted in reduced domestic prices.

The UK is estimated to have only produced 1.75m tonnes of oilseed rape for this marketing year which is the lowest since 2004 and for 2020 the planted area is put at 406,000ha which is down 23% year-on-year.

Conversely the Ukraine have increased their planted area by 280,000ha to 1280Kha, which is a staggering 28% increase on last year’s planted area.

EU rapeseed crushing in 2019-20 is forecast to drop to an eight-year low despite sharply increased imports of Canadian canola but following poor harvesting conditions in Canada their canola production has been cut by 0.8m tonnes to 18.6m tonnes which is the lowest level since 2015-16.

Due to the increased Ukraine rapeseed production new crop prices have come under pressure and the UK delivered price increases were limited due to the stronger sterling and oilseed rape delivered Erith for this month was up £1 to £334.50 per tonne.