When putting this piece together on Tuesday, according to John Aitchison’s weather records at Lochton, in the Borders, near Coldstream, only 0.1mm of rain has fallen so far this month.

Lochton weather records go back a long way and in April, 1912, a total of 0.15mm of rain fell, so we could be in for the driest April since then. Rain was forecast, though, for the latter part of the week, especially in the north and western areas of the country.

It is exactly six weeks since we last had any rainfall and that was 24mm on March 17 to add to the 45.3mm fell during that month. This has allowed spring sowing and potato planting to continue non-stop and a lot of farmers have now completed their spring planting work. Due to the dry weather irrigators are already at work on both cereal and potato crops.

SEPA has now placed some areas on an early warning for drought conditions by summer and Aberdeenshire and across the North-east appears to be especially dry having only had 70% of its March rainfall and 7% of its average April rain to date, resulting in groundwater levels being very low for the time of year following a relatively dry winter for that area.

Much of southern and central Scotland has also had early warning of a water scarcity where some rivers are now exceedingly low. Temperatures in the east have been lower than in the west due to cold winds coming off the North Sea but in the West of Scotland there has been 153.1 hours of sunshine up to April 22 which was 8% above the monthly average.

Last weekend, it was warmer in some parts of Scotland than in it was in Madrid, in Spain, but the UK is not alone in experiencing this spell of dry weather as northern Europe and the Black Sea regions have also suffered which will impact on cereal yields in these areas. Germany has had 80% lower rainfall than normal over the past two months and the Ukraine might well have a 20% drop in crop yield due to extreme drought there.

French wheat crop ratings have dropped to 58%, compared to 79% this time last year, again due to lack of moisture and its spring barley crop ratings have also dropped from 84% down to 69%, with concerns for their crop yield if rain does not come soon. The wheat area is down 8% on last year due to the wet autumn planting season and this has resulted in their spring barley area being up by 9%.

The UK, following a difficult wet autumn planting season, is expecting a 2020 wheat crop production of possibly less than 10m tonnes, compared to the 2019 harvest tonnage of 16.3m tonnes. The UK spring barley planted area is up by 47% and this will means that a large surplus of barley will be looking for a home.

Southern Europe has seen a different weather pattern to other parts of Europe, with some good rain. Spain is forecasting a decent grain crop this year, which will not help the UK to export their usual amount of barley to Iberia this season.

Spain is an important export country for UK feed barley and exported 419,551 tonnes between last July and the end of February this year, but the recent rain in Spain could lead to a reduced import requirement.

However, the commodity markets have been supported by the ongoing dry weather issues causing potential lower yields and this has seen UK feed wheat futures for May, 2020, last week, rising to £157.20. The forecast of rain, though has eased May futures had eased and they stood at £155 per tonne at the start of this week.

November, 2020, new crop futures have eased back as well to £165.50 from £169.25 which is due in part to the Russian wheat crop currently at a 94% satisfactory condition and expecting to produce a 2020 wheat crop at a near-record 84.4, tonnes, but again it will need some rain to achieve that figure.

Russia said that grain exports will cease once the 7m tonne quota set for the last quarter had been reached. Around 3.5m tonnes had already been shipped and with 1m tonne being exported each week, this will see that quota exported by early May. The Ukraine had also moved 18.5m tonnes of its export quota of 20.2m tonnes, so this might give some other exporting countries a chance to offload surplus wheat.

Since 2015/16, UK domestic oat consumption has grown and is forecast to reach 909,000 tonnes this season. A lot of this was used in animal feed production because milling for human consumption is heavily dependent on the quality of the oats, giving rise to a milling premium over feed.

In 2019/20, the UK produced its largest crop of the 21st century at 1.08m tonnes and the AHDB’s February re-run of their early bird survey suggests that this season could see an even bigger crop production with somewhere between 213,000-229,000 ha planted.

That would make it the largest area planted since 1976 and could see a tonnage produced somewhere between 900,000-1.2m tonnes.

With a potential large carryover this season and a second large oat crop in two years, oat prices could come under pressure, given that demand is only slightly up on last year, which means that exports will be crucial to reducing the surplus.

So far this season, 98% of UK oat exports have been to the EU and across the past three seasons an average of 92% of UK exports had been with the EU. That export route to Europe might have to expand in the coming months to become a home for that surplus.

Recently, we saw the price of US oil turn negative and producers were paying buyers to take their oil away as they were running out of storage capacity. I don’t expect that we will see garage forecourt pumps supplying fuel for free! Tax still has to be paid, but it would be a nice idea!

The OPEC countries are agreeing to cut 10m barrels of production per day which will start next month to try and stabilize oil prices. Yet, despite several countries agreeing to cuts in crude oil output the market continues to be under pressure and Brent crude is still hovering around $20 per barrel.

This problem has arisen because of the coronavirus pandemic which has seen requirement of oil decimated with deliveries to the food services sector stopped and which makes up 80% of the total oil demand and there are no early signs of this environment changing very soon.

UK rapeseed prices for May delivery fell last week following a slump in the Paris rapeseed futures price and UK rapeseed delivered in November was quoted at £330 per tonne, though, which was £10.50 above the price for May delivery.

EU rapeseed production forecast for 2020-21 puts the EU crop at 16.7m tonnes, compared to 14.9m tonnes last season. With demand looking like it will reduce and a larger crop expected, this could add more price pressure to the crop at harvest.

Ethanol production in the US continued to drop and is now almost half what it was this time last year.

With US farmers looking to increase their maize plantings by a potential 7.3m tonnes on last year, US maize futures and markets have come under pressure.

That will be the case for some time because US ethanol stocks rose again to set a new record in April of 27,689 barrels and even with lower production it still has not been enough to outweigh the lower ethanol demand.