We have not seen any quantity of sunlight for the past two weeks – with one week of continuous rain and the next with bitterly cold snow showers and freezing conditions.

This has made life difficult for some, with frozen pipes and access to some areas where snow has made outside work and livestock feeding very time consuming.

We are now seeing the start of a warmer spell of weather and the snow is disappearing, which will make working conditions more pleasant but there will have to be a good long dry spell before any thoughts of getting any work done on arable land.

Already we are seeing a noticeable difference in the morning and evening daylight hours, even with the recent dull weather and this will only get better which helps to lift everyone’s spirits.

Two weeks ago, the May, 2021, old crop wheat futures were down £3 to £206.35 per tonne and they now stand at £200.50, so prices are easing back quite considerably.

November, 2021, new crop futures, though, at that time stood at £166.50 and now stand at £166.10, so they were virtually unchanged.

The EU was forecast to export 26.6m tonnes of wheat to third world countries, of which the UK now is one of them, in 2020-21. With 15.8m tonnes exported up to the end of last month and 800,000 tonnes alone last week, there remains capacity to supply wheat for the second half of this marketing year.

Analysts have now increased their 2020-21 EU wheat export estimate to 27.9m tonnes and this leaves its end stocks at just 8.3m tonnes. This represents just 4.5-week’s wheat supply at the end of June, which will be a very tight supply, especially if harvest is later than normal.

The USDA is forecasting that Egypt will import 13m tonnes of wheat this season and as prices have increased, they bought 480,000 tonnes earlier this month, having not bought any wheat since December.

So, with Egypt requiring to buy more wheat and the new Russian wheat export tax kicking in as well, this may see European stocks being more competitive for wheat tenders in future. Any further wheat purchases will make an already tight supply even more so.

UK home-grown wheat usage was down 37.8% to 302,200 tonnes in December, compared to the same month last year and was down on the five-year-average of 498,000 tonnes.

For the season to date, the amount of home-grown milling wheat is down 18.6%, due to low UK wheat production last harvest and this resulted in significant imports to supply the tonnage required.

That means that imported milling wheat in December was up 115% on the previous year, at 150,800 tonnes and the total usage to date is 743,900 tonnes. At the half-way point of the buying season, imported milling wheat is only just behind the entire figure of last year at 749,900 tonnes.

The total bread-making flour tonnage for December is 233,000 tonnes, which is down 13% on the same point last year, with the five-year- average being 269,300 tonnes due to lockdown resulting in fewer food outlets etc. Household flour usage is still 16.3% above the year-to-date at 47,700 tonnes.

The latest GB animal feed usage of wheat, including poultry, was down 17.8% in December, 2020, compared to the previous year. With wheat prices rising significantly throughout the month and cheaper alternatives, this saw wheat usage drop to 367,600 tonnes for the season-to-date of July to December, where the total wheat usage was 12.5% lower at 2.11m tonnes.

Feed barley usage in animal fed in December was up 55.7% on the previous year at 178,400 tonnes and this likely to continue. Strong demand for barley has pushed prices higher in recent weeks.

China has been making significant purchases of maize from the US and up to the end of January the US had exported 7.44m tonnes, including 6m tonnes in one week – a record high and doubling the previous weekly high set in 2012.

The USDA expect that US 2020-21 maize exports will reach 64.77m tonnes, which will leave the US end stocks 9m tonnes down on the year at 39.42m tonnes. The US has now sold 87% of this estimated surplus with seven months of the season to go and there are concerns for future availability given forecasts that the Argentinean maize crop, due to adverse weather, was reduced down to 46m tonnes and Brazil down to 105m tonnes.

This got a reaction from the US Chicago Board of Trade, when maize futures hit their highest level for 7.5 years.

However, a more recent USDA report stated that maize production in South America had not been as badly affected as previously thought, resulting in world maize production of 1.134bn tonnes. This resulted in speculative funds selling 55,000 CBOT maize contracts, representing 15% of their long position and values went down 10%.

That said, traders expected an increase in world consumption due to increased demand from China, but consumption dropped by 2.5m tonnes to a new total of 1.15bn tonnes and China is predicted to import up to 24m tonnes, or 180% higher year-on-year.

Trade estimates for maize world stocks have been put at 270m tonnes, but the USDA puts them at 286.53m tonnes, so there's a bit of disparity and vagueness there.

Feed barley prices have been supported by China’s continued demand for grain, as it rebuilds a pig herd decimated by disease. Its barley imports are expected to total 7m tonnes in 2020-21, which is up 17% on 2019-20 and up 34% on 2018-19 – in tonnage terms in 2019-20, that's 15.6m tonnes of feed grain.

The UK has needed and got a decent feed barley export campaign, but even with this increase in domestic feed barley usage the UK still has a significant surplus left to export. UK barley exports are at their second highest level of the last 10 years with an estimated 685,000 tonnes exported by the end of November.

This was, though, below last season’s record of 1.1m tonnes from July to November.

With new crop values trading at a large discount to old crop prices, there is no incentive for either farmers or merchants to carry feed barley in the new crop harvest.

Prices have eased this past week in line with other commodities but there is still demand for barley into mainland Europe, but not at the prices of the last few weeks.

The UK domestic feed barley market is quieter as consumers appear to have enough supplies at present and as April approaches and livestock start to be turned out to grass, then even less may be required.

If enough exports of the surplus barley have taken place, then prices will tend to remain firm but if not, we could see prices easing.

UK rapeseed prices have remained firm this season due to the low production level of just 1.93m tonnes and this has resulted in at least 364,000 tones of imported rapeseed up until January.

The UK demand for rapeseed is normally around 2m tonnes, so there is still some way to go for more imports. There have been imports of rapeseed oil as well, especially when the Erith crushing plant was closed.

In a year when the EU rapeseed supply and demand balance is heavily in deficit, it was interesting to note that total EU rapeseed oil exports to countries outside the EU increased substantially during 2020-21.

China stepped up its EU purchases over last summer and in the current quarter looks set to import around 180,000 tonnes. EU exports from January to March may reach 250,000 tonnes, which is a big rise from the average of 50,000 tonnes. That's the main reason that local prices are holding firm.

When the coronavirus outbreak started last spring, red diesel prices fell because of a reduced requirement for road fuel. This saw Brent crude oil prices fall to $17.66 per barrel last spring, down from $65.10 in January, 2020. Prices have now recovered and are currently around $57 per barrel.

The decline in red diesel during last season saw it drop from 62.5p per litre down to 51.12ppl for this season from July to December and this has seen average fuel input costs for winter wheat estimated at £52.82 per ha for 2019-20, down from £54.51/ha in 2018-19.

Throughout January and earlier this month there have been some sharp increases in the value of fertiliser, coinciding with a firming in the value of energy as natural gas prices reached their highest levels since 2017.

Cold weather in Asia, the UK and the US increased the demand for gas and this will have some impact going forward and will support fertiliser prices.

High cereal prices will have encouraged growers to increase the amount of ground planted and this in turn will increases the demand for fertiliser, thus giving another boost to prices. Given this, we could see ammonium nitrate values push back up to and possibly beyond £300 per tonne – which would have made buying earlier, or even last year, a good decision!