Commodity prices have been highly volatile this month as the dry, cold weather continued – up to April 27 when this was penned, we had a total of 1.7mm of rain for the month to date and this followed 16.4mm in March.

Coupled with this dry weather has been continuous frosty nights and chilly sunny weather, here in the Eastern Borders and also in many other areas, but there is forecast of some rain by the end of this week.

Potato planting has been making good progress, but I have heard of some planting being put on hold as the soil temperature is too low for potatoes to progress at this time.

Spring sown crops are also in need of heat and moisture and the same can be said for grass fields as well, which have seen little growth so far.

There has been mixed demand for potatoes, recently, with the free-buy packing sector reported as quiet, but the bag trade has picked up on the back of the restrictions being lifted on pubs and restaurants starting to open up for food once again. Prices for Maris Piper rose to £150 for lower quality and up to £300 for best contracted packing samples, which is £50 up on last week but whites have dropped £10 for best samples down to £70 per tonne.

Free-buy Maris Piper for processing is making £160 for best quality and similar samples of whites are worth just £75 per tonne.

Due to the lack of grass for grazing, some livestock are still being fed inside and this has seen new buying interest for old crop feed barley. Prices in some areas of the UK are within £5 per tonne of the highest prices seen this year – this is also due to the political tension surrounding Russia and the Ukraine.

Prices are also being affected by the cold, dry weather in other parts of the world, such as the US and Europe where planting and growth of barley could affect production in these countries. Last year, there were cheap maize supplies to fall back on but not so this year due to tight supplies in North and South America because of China importing a huge tonnage of maize.

There is also demand for old crop barley for pig and poultry rations and this is keeping domestic prices higher than for export purposes. Normally, there would be some demand from Spain and Portugal, but this year they had recent rain which will probably mean they will have a bigger barley harvest than normal.

The dry conditions are also causing new crop malting barley prices to pick up as a lack of sellers and more buyers are taking cover in the event of the dry weather continuing, which would result in a lower tonnage of barley being produced this harvest across Europe.

For instance, in France, the spring barley is showing signs of being hit by recent frosts and 88% of the barley crop is now rated as 'good' or 'very good', which is 4% down on the previous week.

Barley production, in any case, is expected to see a large decline from the two previous seasons on account of better wheat drilling progress. A forecast production of 7.2m tonnes would be 11.3% down on this past harvest and a 1.4% drop on the five-year average, and this based on a planted area of 1.15m ha and an average yield of 6.3t/ha.

This is not the case for UK oats, where a small increase in planted area is forecast at 214,000ha and a production figure of 1.08m tonnes which, if realised, would be the largest oat production this millennium and a third successive 1m tonne plus oat crop.

The UK oilseed rape planted area is forecast to be down by 17% from 2020-21 to 314,000ha, which would result in a total production of 995,000 tonnes next season. Currently, the winter oilseed rape crop is in better condition than last year with 41% rated good to excellent compared to 26% in March last year.

UK consumption of rapeseed is expected to increase to 1.61m tonnes, highlighting the large import requirement the UK faces next season and imports are forecast at 675,000 tonnes which would be up 58.5% from 2019-20.

UK rapeseed prices delivered Erith rose by £16.50 over the past week up to £440.50 per tonne and this was due in part to bigger gains in global rapeseed and soyabean markets and this followed a £22.50 rise in price the previous week. Dry and frosty weather is giving concern plus global demand and low global stock levels of rapeseed.

Drought is also affecting parts of the French rapeseed crop, with its planted area its lowest since 1997. This forecast to produce 3.19m tonnes this year, or 60,000 tonnes less than last year.

Germany is looking to produce around 3.57m tonnes this year, which would be a rise of 1.6% from last year but the EU-27 rapeseed tonnage looks to be tight for this coming season, with more than 6m tonnes of imports required once again.

Maize prices have risen to their highest since 2013 given concerns for Brazil’s maize crops due to drought, as well as very dry soils in Canada where planting is about to start. Low stocks of wheat and maize in the major exporting countries will place extra importance on the 2020-21 Brazilian maize and northern hemisphere 2021-22 grain crops.

Throughout 2020-21, China played a key global role in supporting both maize and wheat prices, and the Chinese buying programme contributed to the tightening of global supply and demand. Imports of soya were up 82% year-on-year in March and China’s total maize demand in 2021-22 is forecast to rise by 5.5m tonnes up to 301.4m tonnes.

Recent figures show that from January to March, pork production rose by 32% year-on-year to 13.7m tonnes and China’s pig herd rose by 29.5% year-on-year to 416m head, so demand looks likely to remain strong next year as well, although reports of African swine fever continue to emerge.

China’s maize production next year is forecast to rise by 6.6m tonnes to 267.3m tonnes and as a result will see imports fall by 3m tonnes down to 22m tonnes and this would help a little to ease the strain on the world maize markets.

Food security is a priority for the Chinese government and this year their maize planted area is forecast to increase by at least 667,000ha. Already this year, China has seen some extreme weather where they have recorded their coldest temperatures in 50 years and have also seen some of their worst sandstorms in over 10 years.

Wheat futures have continued to be very volatile, and on Tuesday of this week November, 2021, new crop wheat futures rose by £6.05 in one day up to £191.30 and only last Thursday were at £179.75 per tonne.

Persistent cold dry weather is also affecting the US and Western Europe as well, and coupled with ongoing Chinese demand this has seen prices rise sharply once again.

Russia has been forecasting a wheat crop of up to 81m tonnes, due to good growing weather recently but some farmers in the Black Earth region have reported winter kill of between 25% and 100% which makes their 81m tonne figure look doubtful.

The Ukraine is looking to produce a wheat crop of 28.5m tonnes and this would be up on their 25.1m tonnes produced last year.

Wheat exports from the US and the EU have been strong with EU exports now up to 20.8m tonnes and are on course to meet their export target figure. The US export sales figures are also above 93% of their target figure as well.

UK wheat import figures for February were lower than in previous months, but it looks likely to be an extremely tight old crop balance sheet. The UK imported just 94,956 tonnes of wheat during February, taking the total figure to 1.67m tonnes and exports now total 144,179 tonnes.

For this coming year, due to the better planting progress made last autumn and spring, we will see an increased wheat tonnage with a forecast production figure of 14.75m tonnes, which would be 5m tonnes better than last year, based on a planted area of 1.775m ha at an average yield of 8.3t/ha.

This figure is 7.5% above the five-year average and would be similar to what was produced in 2017-18. As always much will depend on what weather we get in the next few weeks and already many are predicting a later harvest due to the ongoing cold, dry frosty weather.

Germany is having a similar weather pattern to the UK and crops there are two to three weeks behind normal, but in good condition and current forecasts are for a wheat crop of 22.6m tonnes for this harvest.