WHILE January produced 35.1mm, or 1.38 inches of rain, there were few drouthy days to dry fields and there is still areas of surface water lying on the heaver soil fields – but further south potato lifting has been carried out.

Unable to be harvested last back-end because of the weather, these crops are now coming out of the ground in some select areas. Their condition has been helped by a lack of frost, though these supplies have been heading straight to market wherever possible.

Potato production in the UK for the 2019 crop is put at 5.1m tonnes, which is an increase over the previous year of 182,000 tonnes, but still 7% below the five-year average of 5.5m tonnes. Production is the third lowest year on record and stronger prices have prompted a resumption in harvesting of abandoned crops.

The average net yield for the 2019 crop is being put at 45.6t/ha, which is up 3.9t/ha from the previous season and 2% below the five-year average of 46.6t/ha.

The Met Office is forecasting gales for this weekend and some colder weather to come – so winter may come yet.

Last month was the sixth warmest January on record, with the average mean temperature across the UK recorded at 5.6°C. The warmest January on record was in 1916, when the mean temperature was 6.3°C.

Only five days of wide-spread air frost were recorded last month, which is the lowest since 1990. Air frost is defined by the Met Office as a day when the minimum temperature falls below freezing.

The Met are also predicting a new record hot year within the next five years as temperatures continue to climb and global temperatures for each individual year between 2020 and 2024 are expected to be between 1.06°C and 1.62°C above the conditions the world had in pre-industrial times.

It means the existing record for the hottest year set in 2016 of 1.16°C of warming is likely to be broken.

The five-year period from 2020 to 2024 is also expected to be the hottest five years on record globally, with temperatures predicted to be between 1.15°C and 1.46°C above pre-industrial levels.

That compares with the temperature over the past five years between 2015-2019 which showed an average warming of 1.09°C, making them the warmest such period on record and with nine of the ten warmest since 2005.

Scientists are predicting that temperatures of about 30°C are set to become the new norm in Scotland and we are going to get more frequent heatwaves as hot, dry summers, like the one we had in 2018.

However, the highest official temperature recorded in Scotland was at Greycrook, in Roxburghshire, at 32.9°C in August, 2003.

International weather data shows that 2016 has been the hottest year worldwide since records began with 2019 being the second hottest year and some experts say that warming of more than 2°C could cause irreversible climate change.

The International Grains Council published its world supply and demand figures last week, which cut consumption of wheat by 2m tonnes and year-end stocks by1m tonnes on its previous estimates. Consumption at 755.9m tonnes is a record level and 17.6m tonnes up on last year.

Stocks are at 271m tonnes, which is also a record high and 5.7m tonnes up on the previous year.

The IGC also predicted that the global wheat area drilled for the 2020-21 season will rise by 1% to 220m ha and signalled a potential for more output and stocks.

That said, increases in the winter drilled grain area for Russia will need to offset deceases in Western France and the UK for this coming harvest.

The Russian winter wheat crop is reported to be in better condition than last year, with just 4% of winter crops in bad condition, down from 8% in the previous year which could result in an 85m tonne wheat crop compared to73.5m tonnes in 2019, adding to its 2020 exportable surplus and growing world wheat stocks.

Russia had settled weather during the autumn, allowing winter drilled grain area to extend to 104% of original expectations and saw 18.2m ha drilled compared to 17.6m ha last year. It is believed that overall EU soft wheat exports are at 16.9m tonnes, which is 79% ahead of last year.

This tonnage has been helped significantly by French wheat exports which have been moving at a fast pace this season, with French wheat being cheaper than Russia and Ukraine.

UK old crop wheat exports have slowed down as domestic demand pushed up prices to a level that will limit further export. November exports to the EU were reduced by more than 73% from October to just 67,000 tonnes and with around 1m tonnes surplus to export or roll over to next year, the market is still weighing up how this will impact on next year’s supply and demand.

Expectations for a sizeable US wheat export trade to China following the signing on January 15 of ‘phase one’ of the US/China trade agreement has so far failed to materialise.

The outbreak of coronavirus has hit economic markets on worries of anticipated lower demand leading to reduced import requirement from China.

Its pig herd declined last year by 40% amidst the outbreak of African swine fever which will continue to affect soyabean import tonnage and as a result US soya futures have fallen by $19.01 since the February 3, even after the signing of the deal on January 15.

Global grain markets have also taken a negative turn, with Chicago Board of Trade futures dropping lower as well having recently rallied to an 18-month high early last week. European markets have followed suit and London wheat futures lost £7 per tonne from recent highs. UK feed wheat futures for May, 2020, were down last week by £4.25 to £151.75 per tonne.

This decline has also affected new crop UK feed wheat futures, with November, 2020, futures down last week by £4.55 to £159.75 per tonne.

As we come to the end of the winter wheat drilling window, it looks more likely that alternatives to winter wheat will be sown.

Everything is pointing to another large spring barley crop for harvest 2020, so spring seed is likely to get tight and expensive.

Malting barley premiums remain under pressure and there is little demand, except where tonnage has been rejected by maltsters and replaced to fulfil requirements.

There is little or no export requirement either as EU buyers have enough cover for the remainder of the season. That means most unsold spring malting barley will go for feed.

Unlike feed wheat, new crop feed barley is at a discount to wheat, therefore there is no incentive for either farmers or merchants to carry any of the large barley surplus into the new crop year. The slide in UK oilseed prices has continued, as markets also dropped by a further £10 per tonne.

However, EU rapeseed production is forecast to rise by 800,000 tonnes to 17.7m tonnes from harvest 2020, compared to the average EU crop across four years of 21.2m tonnes.

However, year-end stocks are forecast to counteract this production rise figure as they are down 1.1m tonnes, representing a five-year low.