December has not been as wet as some of the previous months but still wet enough to keep machines off the land, apart from some sporadic potato lifting in some areas.

The shortest daylight day is now behind us and as we enter a new decade and head towards a new year as well one wonders what we will be discussing at this time next year.

Will Brexit finally have taken place with a deal or no-deal having been achieved and will we have an enormous amount of spring barley looking to find a home following a very wet autumn in 2019 and lots of spring barley planted to replace what should have been winter planted wheat?

Will we be seeing global warming weather with yet more hot spells and record temperatures as is predicted to happen in the future with more heavy spells of storms and heavy rain period?

One hopes that the political issues of the past few years settles down now that we have a majority government at the helm, but I suspect the Scottish referendum debate will not go away and keep uncertainty in Scotland going on for some time yet.

Following the general election, the pound recorded strong gains reaching a high of £1=€1.2079 which was the strongest level since July 2016, and $1.35, but has subsequently fallen back to pre-election levels at around £1=€1.18 and this has firmed UK grain prices once again. Sterling has continued to weaken against the dollar as well, as the US House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump.

Old crop May, 2020, feed wheat futures gained some ground following some of the losses recorded over the last few weeks, and now stands at £151.15, which at this time last year was £167. November new crop feed wheat futures stands at £159.50, which last this year at this time stood at £161 per tonne and is at it’s highest since November 7.

According to Scottish Government figures released last week, the 2019 grain harvest has record high yields and a 22% rise in overall cereal production, but a large fall in prices counteracted the gains in yield with feed barley trading under £100 per tonne, and malting barley down £70 per tonne on last year.

Wheat area in 2019 was up 8% and average yield at 8.7t/ha was up 28%, this saw overall production up by 38%.

Spring barley enjoyed the best yield at 6.4t/ha in the last 20 years and even with a reduced planted area the overall production, was up by 11%.

Even though there are predictions of an increased area of spring barley, some farmers are considering the option of planting spring oats instead. Autumn 2012 was a similar one to this current one, and led to a 45% increase in the area of planted oats and coupled with improved yields, production increased by 54% to 964,000 tonnes.

Since harvest 2015 the planted area has been increasing with an average growth of 8.5% per year. The oat area for harvest 2019 increased by 6.1% year-on-year to 182,000ha, and the provisional production estimate is 1.08m tonnes which is the largest oat production since the 1970s.

The AHDB Early Bird Survey of planting intentions currently pegs the oat area for 2020 harvest at 200,000ha, which would be the largest oat area on record, and this area could increase if the wet weather persists, and could see an oat production figure of more than 1m tonnes for the second year running.

Oat ending stocks for this year are estimated at 240,000 tonnes, which is the highest on digital records going back to the 1999-2000 season. Domestic consumption for this season’s oat crop is expected to rise slightly by 4% to 905,000 tonnes, due to an increase in animal feed usage of 345,000 tonnes, which is up by 14% year-on-year.

Human and industrial usage is similar to last year, exports are expected to rise to 70,000 tonnes, but this is nowhere enough to eat into the sizeable oat crop which will need to find a home.

The rise in oat production, especially in the south of England, has seen prices drop and the average ex-farm price of oats in trade to December 12, was just £104.80 per tonne.

The final average oat yield as released by Defra this week is 5.9t/ha, and compares to the five-year average of 5.7t/ha which goes some way to explain the higher tonnage of oats produced this past harvest.

Defra recently published the first official UK wheat balance for this season, and estimates a wheat production figure of 16.283m tonnes and results in a surplus of 4.529m tonnes for export or carry over to next season. With exports of up to a possible 900,000 tonnes by Christmas, this would leave around 2m plus tonnes to be exported or rolled over to next season.

With the newly formed Conservative Government looking set to rule out any further Brexit extension, there is the thought that this increases the chance of the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal.

Another deal getting closer appeared to be happening last weekend when the US/China trade talks progressed with a ‘phase one’ agreement which would see China purchasing an extra $50bn of US agricultural goods in 2020, and the US would suspend tariffs on $160bn Chinese products immediately.

With the tariff suspension, China is forecast to increase soyabean imports by 1.5m tonnes to 87.7m tonnes in 2019-20, and compares to 82.8m tonnes last season. US imports to China this season are expected to be above the current 48.3m tonnes and still not as high as in the previous two seasons, when US soyabean exports to China were around 58m tonnes.

This season UK rapeseed production has fallen to its lowest level since 2004 at 1.75m tonnes, and this is the case in the EU where production also hit new lows.

One of the limiting factors for rapeseed prices is currency and the rise in value of sterling since October, has seen UK rapeseed prices struggle to replicate the gains seen in Paris rapeseed futures and the struggle of UK prices to replicate gains seen elsewhere in Europe reflects the relative cost of importing.

The UK domestic market has seen limited purchasing and limited selling and the lack of purchasing is being driven by the large volume of imports which shows that just short of 200,000 tonnes, or a 290%, rise on the same period last year.

As of December 16, the EU had imported 3.4m tonnes of rapeseed, which is 57% of estimated imports this season, and Ukraine will export 2.9m tonnes to the EU, and to date, 93% or 2.6m tonnes of this total has already been sent to Europe.

There are some concerns where Europe will get the rest of their required tonnage as Australia, which exports to Europe, is expected to produce just 2.1m tonnes, which is 35% down from their five-year average of rapeseed production.

This is the last article for this year and this decade, and as always I would like to wish anyone who bothers to read this a very merry festive season and a happy new year, and I would also like to thank a team of people from whom I glean a lot of my information to write this article as they provide a very useful service to the trade and agricultural community with up to date and relevant information on an almost a daily basis.

I used to be on the old HGCA Market and Information Committee, as well as chairing the UK Recommended Lists HGCA Barley Committee for many years, which included attending appeals meetings when varieties did not get onto the lists, which applied to oilseed rape and wheat as well, and I know just how hard the teams work to digest and send out their information.

As it is the end of the year, I would like to thank the analysts at AHDB for all the information that they have provided and they are – Aidan Wright, Anthony Speight, Alice Bailey, Peter Collier and James Webster, who all have their specialist subjects. Apologies if I have missed anyone.