Winter-sown crops continue to look well given recent relatively mild weather, even though we had 100mm, or four inches of rain in October to give a total for the year at the beginning of November of 541mm, or 21 inches.

That has meant that there are still potatoes to be lifted in some parts of Scotland. There are some quality issues that have been identified recently with pest damage, rot and bruising, which will be a concern for long term storage.Will that see supplies coming onto the market earlier than planned?

During October, the weekly average price for potatoes, including free-buy and contract dropped by £18.20/tonne to £132.36, but Maris Piper has seen a premium over Grade 1 whites, especially where samples had top quality skin finish and prices increased from £110-£150/tonne during October, and the overall tonnage traded increased by 17% from September, but it was still 9% down from the same period last year.

October saw 23% of sales done on a free-buy basis and 77% on contract, in contrast to the previous month where 19% was on free-buy and 81% on contract.

With wheat, the May, 2021, old crop Liffee feed futures currently stand at £191, up from £187.50 the previous week and November, 2021, new crop stands at £159 with November, 2022, at £156.60 /tonne.

World wheat markets have seen large gains by more than 25% in value since harvest, which is due to strong international demand, a record breaking export pace from the Black Sea regions, prolonged dry weather, dry soils in the US and in Russia, which is causing concern for newly planted winter wheat crops.

US winter wheat ratings were only put at 41% 'good to excellent' and this is the worst rating since 2013, when it was at 40%.

Despite higher prices, Egypt bought 300,000 tonnes of Russian wheat last week at $275.80/tonne, which is almost $50/tonne above what was paid at this time last year and $29 higher than paid in September.

Saudi Arabia is also looking to buy 600,000 tonnes of wheat at present and the EU needs to improve its wheat export pace – so far this season it has moved 6.89m tonnes, compared to 9.73m tonnes last year at this time.

With four months of the season gone, the EU will need to ship 18m tonnes of wheat from now until the end of June, 2021, to reach its target of 25m tonnes which would mean that the current weekly exports would have to increase by 30%.

Australia is reporting massive wheat yields on the back of widespread rain following three consecutive drought years and 13.2m tonnes is forecast in New South Wales, which would be the highest tonnage ever and a total for the country of 32m tonnes – up from their June estimate of 26.67m tonnes.

Farmers on Oz are obviously keen to sell their large tonnage at current prices and are undercutting Black Sea wheat by $10/tonne at present to sell into the South-east Asian market.

A trade dispute between Australia and China has continued, too, as Chinese traders had been advised not to buy any Australian products, or commodities which includes barley and wheat. The French have run into problems as well with prohibited seeds being found in a cargo of wheat bound to China, and so it is likely that there will be fewer exports to China from the EU in the near future.

One aspect which is affecting Australia is the La Nina weather event, which can dramatically affect wheat and canola crop production. This usually occurs every few years when trade winds in the tropical pacific move the warm ocean current from the East to West, causing warmer waters in the western Pacific and colder waters in the Eastern Pacific.

This brings more rain in Australia from December to February and cool dry weather in parts of South America. La Nina had a significant impact between 2010-2012 when 2010 was Australia’s third-wettest calendar year on record and 2011 was its coolest year in a decade.

La Nina also contributed to the 2010-2013 southern US drought and the current dry spell is the most widespread and intense at this time since 2012. In 2012, La Nina also affected Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay’s soya harvest where production was severely reduced and caused the world stocks-to-use ratio to fall significantly which supported soya prices.

Back to the present, UK rapeseed markets have regained most of what they lost last week after concerns that Covid-19 would see a drop in demand for oilseed rape, but as global stocks of oilseeds remain tight, Europe will have to rely on imports from Canada and Australia especially as the global soya stocks-to-use ratio is currently sitting at a 23-year low.

US soya futures have experienced contract highs, not seen since July, 2016, as annual export tonnage to China is up 40% from last year to 48.5m tonnes. This is because the Chinese are attempting to feed their pig herd that is 50% bigger than it was at this time last year – its maize imports this season, at 22m tonnes, are well above the USDA estimate of 7m tonnes.

Both barley use and markets have been quiet this past week as the coronavirus imposed rules in the UK reduced restaurant food and alcohol requirements. The total September barley usage was 11% down against the five-year average, compared to a 6% drop in August when the Eat Out to Help Out scheme was in place.

During the first lockdown from April to June, barley usage by brewers, maltsters and distillers was down 27% compared to the same period in 2019 and this reduction is likely to be repeated again this month.

If November shows a 20% drop from the five-year average, this would equate to a reduction of 30,300 tonnes. Total barley use would then be estimated at 121,100 tonnes and if December returns back to normal, with fewer restrictions then it could go back up to where it was in August.

At the end of August, 2019, the UK had exported 330,000 tonnes of barley for the 2019 crop year and exports from July to August were 134,460 tonnes, or 59% below last year. This drop is, in part, due to big yields in 2019 and an early harvest, compared to low yields and a much bigger percentage of later cut spring barley in 2020.

Looking to the future, 800,000-900,000 tonnes of barley need to be exported by Christmas to make a hole in the total export requirement of 1.8-1.9m tonnes. Again, with Brexit coming up fast and as yet, no deal done, next year the UK could be faced with competing in a world market very different rules and regulations.

There has been an estimated 6% fall in the UK oat crop production this year, despite a 16% rise in planted area up to 211,000ha.

In England, the planted area was up 19% from 2019 but production was down by 11%, in contrast Scotland saw a 7% rise in planted area and a 19% increase in production. If confirmed, this would be the largest Scottish oat crop in recent years.

The improved quality of the crop and relatively large tonnage is keeping spot ex-farm milling oat prices under pressure, especially as in 2019-20 the largest oat crop in the 21st century was harvested. However, by the end of the marketing year on June 30, 2020, stocks were estimated to be 9% below the June, 2019, level at 106,000 tonnes.

This was due to increased domestic consumption and the largest tonnage exported since 2002-2003 of 120,000 tonnes.

Last season, an estimated 350,000 tonnes of oats were used for animal feed, an increase of 16% year-on-year and the highest for AHDB records going back to 1999-2000.

The quality and size of the 2020 crop could limit the UK’s need for imports this season, which would see imports of oats into the UK from January 1 subjected to a £74 per tonne tariff.

UK exports into the EU would face a tariff of €89 unless a trade deal is agreed – in the past five years, 95% of UK oats have been exported to the EU and it is difficult to see how any UK oats could be competitive into the EU in the second half of 2020-2021 unless a trade deal is agreed.

As the UK usually exports a greater volume of oats than it imports, this is more likely to put pressure on spot oat prices than support them.