Dry weather has continued throughout this month in most of the main crop growing regions with a few intermittent rain showers – but heavy rain was falling in the north and west of Scotland.

We are well overdue for some warmer weather, even though some cool drying winds had allowed spring work to make good progress, including allowing potato planting to get underway.

But while the crop goes into the ground for this year's harvest, this past week has seen trade for potatoes continue at a slow but steady pace. Lockdown had meant that turnover was behind normal, but there are signs that the easing of some restrictions could see increased demand relatively soon – also helped by pupils returning to school in recent weeks.

Packhouses are moving some processing tonnage on contract and so there is little free-buy tonnage demand. Maris Piper, though, is still commanding a significant premium over whites, as supplies of grade 1 of that variety become harder to find.

Packing grade Piper this past week was worth between £110 and £240, with whites fetching between £30 and £80 per tonne. Processing Piper is still worth between £80-120 and whites range from £40-£70 per tonne.

Similarly, old crop feed and malting barley is struggling to sell both here on the UK domestic and EU export markets in recent weeks even though barley maintained a significant, but smaller than usual £15-18 discount to wheat.

The recent decent spell has seen spring barley sown into good seed beds and following showers allowed some good, even early crop establishment. But that meant markets were drifting as a result of the good drilling progress, both in the UK and across the EU.

Between March 15-22, the price of oilseed rape delivered Erith fell by £16 per tonne to £370 and November, 2021, futures fell by £15 to £380.50. Old crop oilseed rape is back £15 and falling, while new crop is down by £10 per tonne mainly due to a 5% drop in Paris oilseed rape futures.

UK rapeseed prices had risen by almost £100 per tonne over the past year and the markets have seen this as a 'correction' due to a weakness in the European rapeseed markets, which wiped 30% off the value of rapeseed since the start of January.

But it's a tighter situation for soya. The US will have very little stocks going into next season having exported 99% of its forecasted tonnage already. That means merchants will be looking to Brazil and elsewhere to find stocks and there, the soyabean harvest is now well over 50% complete. It expects to produce somewhere between 126-136m tonnes and the higher estimated figure appears to be a bit hopeful, given poor crop conditions going into harvest and wet weather during it.

Globally, soya production in 2021-22 is set to total 338m tonnes, which is up 22.5m tonnes from the original forecast of 361m tonnes.

Production increases in Brazil and the US are the main contributors to this increase, with Brazil’s 2021-22 production forecast to rise by 6.2m tonnes up to 133m tonnes and the US production increase up to 122.8m tonnes, which is up 10.3m tonnes from earlier forecasts for this year.

Soya prices have risen by more than 70% during this past year and this may encourage farmers both in South America and the US to increase plantings for next harvest, but there will be competition from maize in their thinking, which has commanded high prices as well.

Oilseed availability from Ukraine and Canada is expected to be down on last year, and so Australia is likely to increase its planted area. That said, tonnage will be down due to lower yields and these three countries during this marketing year have already accounted for 95% of EU imports.

This could be a problem for EU rapeseed buyers who require a similar tonnage to last season and a plentiful 2021 harvest will be required to offset the low global oilseeds stocks that the market has at present.

For 2021-22, the UK and EU will be in deficit for rapeseed and imports from third countries will remain critical. EU-27 production is predicted to increase from 17.1m tonnes in 2021-22, up from 16.3m tonnes in 2020-21, but imports will still need to remain high at 6.2m tonnes as ending stocks are forecast to be tight.

Looking at pulses, old crop bean values have fallen £5-8 per tonne over the past week due to lack of demand and more tonnage coming onto the market. With sterling remaining firm and minimal demand, prices can be expected to fall further over the next few months.

New crop bean prices have also come under pressure over the past week due to an expected bigger tonnage for this coming harvest. Winter beans have come through the winter well and with the recent better weather, crops are now looking far better than at this time last year. Spring bean drilling continues into good seed beds and prospects for this crop also look better than last year.

At the end of this harvest season, China is expected to hold 196m tonnes of maize, which is more than two-thirds of the total world maize stocks and represents almost 68% of China’s annual domestic consumption. It continues to buy more and earlier this month added a further 24m tonne, including another 3.3m tonnes from the US to add to the 6m tonnes bought during January.

Prior to last week’s sale, the US had already sold 92% of its 55m tonnes of exportable surplus and there are still 24 weeks of the marketing season remaining. US stocks look to be going to fall by 10m tonnes on last year, which will leave a very tight balance sheet for this crop.

Last week, global wheat markets continued to drop, with the Liffee feed wheat November, 2021, futures down £7.10 since the beginning of March. World wheat markets have fallen again and have now lost all the price gains they made in 2021 and London wheat futures fell to their lowest since December 17.

At present, May, 2021, old crop futures stand at £192.90 and two weeks ago were at £202 per tonne; November, 2021, new crop was at £161.95 down from £168 two weeks ago; while May, 2022, is £166.60, down £5. November, 2022, is currently sitting at £160.10 per tonne.

Wheat prices are falling on the back of improved production forecasts from major exporting countries and a lack of good news to support prices. Recent rain and snow across the US Plains has alleviated drought concerns and crop condition scores have risen across the main grain growing states.

Russia also increased its forecast for wheat in 2021-22 by 3.1m tonnes, up to 79.3m tonnes due to recent favourable weather reducing the winter kill estimate to 9.9%, down from 16%.

The Ukraine's estimated wheat production for next year is 75m tonnes, which is well up on their 65.5m tonnes in 2020. It had reported that 98% of its winter wheat is in 'good' condition. In 2022-21, Ukraine's grain exports are expected to be around 45.5m tonnes, compared to 57m tonnes in 2019 – for 2021-22 are forecast to be around 53m tonnes.

The EU estimated its 2021-22 wheat production will be 136.8m tonnes for the EU-27. If realized, this would be 12.4m tonnes higher than last season and 4% above the five-year average.

Much of Europe saw little winter kill this year and there are few drought concerns. Forecasters have now increased the 2021 EU wheat yield estimate to 5.67t/ha, up from 5.5t/ha in 2020. If realized, this would be 3.5% higher than the five-year average of 5.47t/ha.

Predictions of higher wheat production will be partly off-set by an increase in consumption, expected to be up 17.3m tonnes to 777.6m tonnes. Overall, world wheat stocks are seen rising by 12m tonnes, which will offset the fall in maize stocks – but all these estimates, of course, will depend on good weather in the future to ensure higher production figures can be realised.

Weekly wheat export sales for the US were 344,000 tonnes, taking the season’s total sold to almost 93% of the surplus estimated by the USDA.

EU weekly wheat exports were strong at 670,000 tonnes and this takes the total exported to 19.34m tonnes. The export pace over the past month has been up to 687,000 tonnes per week, which is 287,000 tonnes per week more than is needed to meet the recently revised target of 25.2m tonnes for the season.

The International Grains Council produced its latest total grain production figures and their global production figure for 2020-21 was raised by 9m tonnes to 2224m tonnes and it estimates a record production for 2021-22 amounting to 2287m tonnes. This record crop will be a rise of 63m tonnes on the revised 2020-21 production figure.

Even with the increased production this season, rises in both trade and consumption figures have resulted in carryover stocks down 2m tonnes to 609m tonnes. Carryover stocks are predicted to remain the same for 2021-22, with increased consumption offsetting rises in production.