So, would the adoption of E10 in the UK give a major boost to the cropping sector?

For those of you who might be wondering, E10 isn’t a character from Star Wars, or even a new skin moisturiser – it is, in fact, a set of regulations which would require road fuel to have at least 10% of its content derived from renewable bio-resources.

While I believe that a fair proportion of Scotland’s oilseed rape crop might be exported abroad to be turned into biodiesel, the biggest boost could well be to the wheat sector if the inclusion of more home-produced bioethanol in the petrol sold at the pumps can provide the incentive needed to reboot the country’s big production plants, Ensus and Vivergo, in the North-east of England, once again.

Though there’s probably never been a lot of Scottish wheat going directly to these plants, they do swallow a lot of the crop which would otherwise be available to move north – and in the process taking some of the shine off our key local market for grain whisky distilling.

So, seeing E10 adopted would double the current inclusion rate of biofuel in mixes and with it offer another outlet which would, hopefully, do something towards supporting not only this sector but also domestic grain prices.

Many other countries have adopted this already, including France which took the bold step back in 2009. So, the UK has the look of a Johnny-come-lately to this particular piece of sustainability and it took until earlier this year for the UK Government to conduct a proper consultation on the issue, with responses currently being analysed.

Therefore, the issue might finally be given a bit more political clout – for while the UK (and Scotland) have expressed pretty optimistic timescales for reaching net zero carbon emissions, the main route towards this as far as road traffic is concerned has been to push the change towards electric cars.

All good and well, but it is going to take some time to see all petrol and diesel cars phased out and in the meantime it’s been calculated that changing to E10 would provide the same sort of savings in the use of fossil fuels as taking 350,000 cars off the road. A pretty good result, albeit an interim one.

But while the farming industry might be all for the creation of a more robust biofuel outlet for our grain, our memories aren’t that short that we’ve forgotten the huge problems which we all suffered earlier this year with clogged filters in our tractors. This seems to have been the result of an unanticipated problem associated with higher inclusion of biofuels in our tractor diesel.

And, things haven’t been as bright as they might be in the bioethanol sector either, with the coronavirus pandemic causing a massive slump in global demand for fuel at a time when oil prices had bottomed out, and many such facilities are standing idle around the world.

On top of that, with wheat production likely to be down to below the 10m-tonne mark in the UK this year anyway due to reduced plantings – especially down south – and yields that aren’t expected to be high, the fact that any decision isn’t likely to be taken on the matter in time to have a significant effect on this year’s harvest might not be quite as exasperating as it otherwise could have been.

But in future years, when the country might find itself in surplus, having such an outlet could prove to be a major benefit, especially as we don’t know what the set of trade deals we will be operating under are likely to look like.

The release a month or so back of the UK’s updated 'no-deal' tariff schedule might have looked to be a bit more acceptable (as they now pretty much replicate those we’d had when we were in the EU) and could be construed as a bit better than those floated the last time a no-deal Brexit was looming on the horizon.

Recently, the AHDB reported that the UK is set to adopt a zero rate tariff on high quality wheat – defined as over 13.5% protein, 78kg/hl specific weight and 230s Hagberg falling number – but for feed quality, a tariff of £79 per tonne has been proposed.

While this could support the market in the early part of next year if we fail to get a deal with the EU, the AHDB felt its effect would actually be pretty limited. It believed that there would likely be a considerable front-loading of wheat imports through the first half of the season to compensate for the potential loss of imports in the second half of the year.

Further down the line, it warned that the tariff on imported feed wheat could lead to an increase in the use of imported maize in feed ration formulations.

More recently, the farm business consultants, Andersons, pointed out that this trend could be accelerated by the fact that the tariff schedule, for some reason best known to itself (and we can only hope that it wasn’t driven by Westminster’s desire to placate Uncle Sam?) has seen fit to drop the import tax on maize to zero, effectively making it €10 per tonne cheaper to import.

Of just as much immediate interest to our own situation is the fact that the same sentiments are likely to work in the distilling market. For while there has been a move by distillers to use Scottish grown soft wheat in the production of grain whisky, there’s an underlying danger that more of them could move back to using maize if economics so dictated.

That means there’s more than a little uncertainty playing in the market as we approach this and future harvests.

On a slightly different tack, though, with the recent weather ups and downs, there’s also been a fair bit of uncertainty playing in the straw market at the moment. The dry spell earlier in the year combined with some pretty iffy looking stands of wheat around the country has fuelled some fears that the livestock boys might face a tough time getting the straw they need in some parts of the country.

But with the return of the rain in recent weeks, it's been amazing how things have shot up – and it certainly doesn’t look like its going to be a repeat of 2018 in our neck of the woods, with the straw in most crops stretching to the normal length or, worryingly, beyond.

Though there’s still 'everything to play for', I don’t think that anyone looking for bedding should be too worried about drawing the short straw this year.