September finished up with 20.2mm of rain to give a total for the year so far of a little over 17 inches – but October has had some heavy downpours which saw some surface water lying.

However, for some, the recent rain was a God-send as it helped potato lifting in areas where the soil had been too dry, damaging the skins when they went through the harvester. Recently sown winter crops in some areas were needing a drink as well.

The recent rain did hold up potato lifting for a while but prices are not good, with reduced demand due to Covid-19 and Scottish whites are reduced by £60/tonne from the same time last year, although Scottish Maris Piper prices have held up better at around £130/tonne.

The total 2020 planted GB area is put at 117,470 ha which indicates a drop of 2.3%, compared to last year and puts this year’s planted area as the third smallest on record, behind only 2016 and 2017.

UK and world wheat futures rose to new contract highs, following world market prices, and physical prices are reflecting the costs of imported supplies. Consumers continue to purchase EU supplies in order to have sufficient cover ahead of possible import tariffs of up to £78 per tonne from January 1, 2021, if the UK do not strike a trade deal with the EU by then.

As part of that conundrum, wheat is also currently arriving at UK ports from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Germany.

But there's a scarcity of wheat around as evidenced by the UK Liffee feed wheat futures for November, 2020, which last weekend stood at £185/tonne and for May, 2021, £185.50. That's a big rise on August 10 when November futures stood at £161.25 – on November 11, last year, they were at £140.30.

Its a result of a poor UK wheat harvest – mainly in England – and prolonged dry weather elsewhere in the world, which have caused prices to rise quite dramatically. Price support was also seen from the fall in the value of sterling relative to the dollar and sterling’s volatility will be key to domestic pricing in the short term, especially with Brexit not far off now.

There is now an increasing tonnage being traded on the May, 2021, futures contract and the carryover from old crop May, 2021, to new crop November, 2021, now stands at -£23.50 /tonne.

Last week, Defra released the provisional UK 2020 wheat harvest figures, estimating average wheat production at 7.7t/ha to give a total of 10.133m tonnes, which is 37.5% down on harvest, 2019 and would be the smallest wheat crop since 1981.

Only 31% of Nabim Group 1 milling wheat sampled made full specification bread wheat, with the biggest problem being low protein. Just 33% of samples hit the 13% protein spec', compared with 42% at this stage last year.

As mentioned earlier, prolonged dry weather around the world has seen the Chicago Board of Trade wheat prices at their highest level for five years and this was also due to US wheat and maize stocks well below expected tonnages. At 50.7m tonnes, US maize stocks were 6.5m tonnes below trade estimates and 5.8m tonnes below this time last year.

With 58.7m tonnes, US wheat was 3m tonnes below expectations and 5m tonnes lower than last year at this time.

Wheat crops in Argentina and the US are suffering from lack of rain, but it is dry soils across most of Russia that is giving most cause for concern. Russian farmers have planted more than 70% of their winter wheat, but ongoing dry conditions and warm temperatures could see newly planted seed fail to germinate and this could well see the world’s largest wheat exporter have a significant fall in 2021 wheat output.

The global estimate for wheat production is forecast at 763.4m tonnes, which is actually around 1.3, tonnes higher than last year as significant reduction in tonnage in some countries has been offset by a rise in production in Australia, Canada and Russia. Global ending stocks are expected to rise by 15m tonnes to 294m tonnes.

The global estimate this year for maize production is forecast at 1160m tonnes, which is around 39m tonnes higher than last year and global ending stocks are expected to fall 116m tonnes to 285m tonnes.

Last week, Defra released its provisional UK barley production figure of 8.4m tonnes, which would be a 4% increase on 2019 and the biggest for approximately 30 years.

Scotland has produced a record tonnage by growing higher yielding varieties and also by avoiding the extreme weather that affected English growers during harvest where they grew 6m tonnes, up 3% from last year, so this is the second consecutive 8m-tonne-plus UK barley harvest, which means the UK had stocks 24% higher even before this year’s harvest got underway.

Barley usage by brewers, maltsters and distillers has been lower than normal due to Covid-19 restrictions and this has resulted, along with a larger tonnage produced, in a Scottish ex-farm malting barley price of around £133, which is nearly £12 per tonne lower than in England, or the biggest price difference since November, 2014.

There has been good movement of UK barley on the export market into EU destinations, though. With rising wheat and maize prices, this allowed compounders to purchase cheaper barley for rations and the gap between spot feed wheat and feed barley has increased since June to average £44.60/tonne in September – the widest monthly average gap going back as far as October, 1975.

Many of the major importing nations are expected to require similar amounts of barley to last year in 2021, but with a larger barley crop expected in Australia this will see more competition coming later in the season.

Over the past five seasons, 82% of UK barley exports went to EU countries and there are concerns regarding a trade deal being done between the UK and the EU before January 1, when UK barley exports into the EU could face some potentially high tariffs so there is a great incentive to ship as much barley as possible now.

Last year, the total animal feed usage of barley reached 4.12m tonnes, which is the highest level in records dating back to 1999-2000 and barley accounted for nearly 12% of all raw materials used in animal feed production in July and August, which is the highest level since the mid 1990s.

Estimated production figures for UK oilseed rape this year are put at 1.07m tonnes, which if correct would be a 39% reduction since last year and the lowest since 2001. The planted area for this past 2020 harvest was 388,000ha, down 27% on last year and yields were down at 2.8t/ha which, in many cases, throughout many parts of England was due to cabbage stem flea beetle.

Looking to the future, it is thought that there could be a further reduction of at least 10% in planted area next year, which would see just 350,000 ha of UK planted oilseed rape.

The UK’s domestic demand for rapeseed is around 1.8-2m tonnes per year, with the majority of this being crushed for edible oil and meal used in animal feed. Due to Covid-19, this demand reduced marginally but over the last few years, domestic production has reduced and imports have increased.

On a five-year average, imports of rapeseed are around 225,000 tonnes. However, last year total imports amounted to just under 395,000 tonnes and this tonnage would normally come from the EU, Ukraine and Australia.

There has been little change in physical oilseed rape prices this past week, as traded volumes remain low, but there has been support for crude oil prices with Brent crude oil ending last week at $43.34/barrel, up 10.4% from the previous week.

In the longer term, the outlook remains strong for global oilseeds as US exports to China last August reached $2.15bn, most of which was soyabeans.

Demand for human consumption beans has come to a near-standstill, with best quality samples in the north of the country only making a £8-£12 premium over feed beans, but across the board bean values remain firm.

Pea markets are also holding firm, with quality peas worth £250 per tonne and feed peas, £200.