Following just 16.4mm of rain in March and 15.7mm in April, May has relieved the recent spell of dry weather with a copious amount of rain to get the crops and grass moving.

However, until this past weekend we still had continuous cold days and many frosty nights which hindered growth and some spring sown crops are looking cold and hungry so there's still not a lot of growth in the grass fields for livestock and at present, not a lot of evidence of any bulking up for silage stores either.

Potato planting appears to be mostly complete now and just before the rain came. That means fertiliser that had been lying on the surface will now be getting down to the crop roots and if we get some heat, then we will see spring crops romp through their growth stages.

In April, we saw the easing of Covid-19 government restrictions and this is due to continue which will see more pubs and restaurants opening up which will help the demand for potatoes. Already it has helped the demand for bagged supplies, but the recent cold weather has still kept demand lower than expected.

Maris Piper is continuing to hold a premium over general whites in the processing sector, as well as the packing sector. This has seen Piper prices rising by £20 per tonne to £130 at the end of last month. Free-buy traded tonnage has been relatively steady throughout April but down compared to March.

Over the last month, the weekly average free-buy price rose by £4.78 per tonne from end March to April 24 when it as sitting at £152.57 per tonne. Also last month, a high proportion of trade continued to be fulfilled on contract, but the average price still increased by £7.58 per tonne for the same period to £185.08 per tonne.

In the packing sector, demand was not great and did not benefit from the reopening of the restaurants and pubs for outdoor dining. For week ending April 30, English whites were £93 per tonne and Scottish whites were less than half of that.

At the end of March potato growers held 1.2m tonnes in stock which is 22.4% of total 2020 production and this figure is only 2600 tonnes higher than in March, 2020, but is 90,700 tonnes above the five-year average.

Pictured at Denhead Farms, Coupar Angus, Perthshire, planting potatoes with Miedema Structural 2000 belt planter - certainly a tractor driver with a view!

Pictured at Denhead Farms, Coupar Angus, Perthshire, planting potatoes with Miedema Structural 2000 belt planter - certainly a tractor driver with a view!

Due to the recent dry cold spring, barley use in animal feed remains high and the AHDB report that usage is 48% higher than in March, 2020. Production of dairy cow feed blends increased by 14.5% due to the lack of grass and at the current rate, barley usage in animal feed could reach 2m tonnes.

Last week, there was renewed interest in UK export barley for May and June from buyers in the Netherlands which could tighten the UK barley supply and demand situation for this year.

With the recent rain across the UK, the potential for an average barley crop looks now more likely, but it could still be a later harvest than normal. Gains in global grain markets is producing an increase in new UK barley prices for both feed and malting.

The continuing persistent global demand for oilseeds has seen prices continue to increase and this will continue until new supplies come forward from the 2021 Northern Hemisphere harvests. Stock levels in exporting countries are low and China, in particular, is trying to build up stocks of agricultural commodities.

At the end of March, Canadian canola stocks were down by 37.7% compared to last year and this is due to increased demand because of the coronavirus pandemic and reduced supplies from some other exporting countries.

New season domestic rapeseed prices have jumped by another £25 per tonne last week, despite new crop trading at a £35/tonne discount to old crop supplies. UK oilseed rape prices rose by £38/tonne to £469 delivered Erith for harvest last week, and for November delivery, up £38 to £477/tonne. These are the highest prices that AHDB has ever quoted in its delivered oilseed survey dating back to July, 2004.

That said, current weather projections suggest that if the world experiences average weather in 2021, then production of all vegetable oil globally will exceed consumption and we could see a slight rebuilding of stocks which may have an impact on prices in future.

A greater tonnage of oilseeds would allow oilseed stocks to be rebuilt from the current low usage level of 18.4% back up towards the 23.2% of two years ago. Global rapeseed production is forecast to rise from 64.72m tonnes this year up to 65.6m tonnes which will result in production exceeding consumption, but poor weather in future could change these predictions.

UK bean prices have been quite volatile recently, moving both ways by as much as £10 per tonne due to concerns as to how the crop was going to grow given the recent inclement weather, but beans are now looking better following the recent rain. Old crop feed bean demand has slowed recently, and prices are now below £210/tonne.

Global maize stocks are forecast to be at 264m tonnes and maize ending stocks in 2021-22 are forecast to fall year-on-year by 7m tonnes, partly due to a forecast reduction in the Brazilian maize crop due to drought issues, and this tight maize season end balance is driving prices higher at present. It's also helped by Chinese purchases of US maize.

If the Brazilian drought continues, its maize crop production could fall as low as 90m tonnes, down from the previous estimate of 109m tonnes. This saw the Chicago Board of Trade's maize futures rise by over 40% since the end of March and reached their highest level in eight years.

The low level of US maize stocks could leave the US maize balance sheet very low towards the end of the season, and moving forward in its first purchase of US new crop maize, China booked 1.36m tonnes and signified its intention to purchase large volumes for next season.

Chinese maize production for 2021 is also forecast to rise by 4.3% to 272m tonnes which will be due to a 3.3% increase in planted area and consequently will reduce their import requirement as well. Even so, increased Chinese demand for maize will see their imports increasing to 28m tonnes, compared with just 7.6m tonnes last season.

The large increase in maize prices has seen a greater incentive for wheat in global feed rations as the price margin between them decreases.

Total grains production for 2020-21 is now forecast at 2226m tonnes which is a 2m tonne increase due to higher maize production, but this increase will be absorbed by a 2m tonne increase in consumption with increased demand for wheat in animal feed and increased industrial consumption of maize.

Total grains ending stocks for 2021-22 are forecast to be in line with the current season at 609m tonnes, despite total production being forecast to hit a record 2,287m tonnes, up 61m tonnes on last year but this increase will be offset by increased global consumption, and it is interesting to note that in 2021-22, 312m tonnes of the 609m tonnes of global ending stocks will be tied up in China.

Gains in global grain markets last week brought good support to both UK wheat futures and UK delivered wheat prices. Delivered prices for new crop wheat saw the largest gains and UK wheat futures rose accordingly as well but prices remain very volatile.

Wheat and maize futures have continued to rise this past week setting new contract highs and US markets reached their highest level for eight years, also the Liffe new crop wheat futures, when at their highest had risen in April by £35.00/tonne.

On Friday of last week, November, 2021, new crop wheat futures closed at £192.00/ tonne and on Monday of this week dropped by £6.50 to £185.50 having gained £8.25 during the past week and oilseed rape futures dropped by £8.00 per tonne on Monday as well.

May, 2021, old crop wheat is currently standing at £207/tonne and May, 2022, futures are at £192.95/tonne.

Higher European futures markets have reflected concerns for both winter and spring wheat crops following the prolonged dry and record low April temperatures which has affected most of Northern Europe and also where France has seen their wheat quality ratings drop, but not as low as they were at this time last year.

Wheat supply and demand projections, released last week, indicate world production at 790m tonnes for last year which would be higher than the 774m tonnes forecast for this season even though the EU commission have revised their total wheat production down to 124.8m tonnes, 5m tonnes down from previous estimates, and Canada is expecting a fall of 6.9% in its wheat drilled area.

Wheat ending stocks have been cut to 389m tonnes which is still 11m tonnes higher year-on-year and close to record levels.

On the UK domestic front, figures for human and industrial cereal use for March showed that imported milling wheat was at 126,700 tonnes, up 4% on the month. Imported supplies had been an increased focus for millers this season, with the total for the season to end March use at 1.13m tonnes, up 92% on the year.

On global trading matters, the EU, including the UK, and Canada are second and third, respectively, behind Russia in the world table of leading wheat exporters, narrowly beating the US which is in fourth place.

There has been a great transformation in commodity markets since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and as we have seen, many futures contracts have hit multi-year highs owing to supply and demand imbalances which has stemmed from increases to global demand.

China began its purchasing campaign of agricultural commodities in August, 2020, and that is continuing. However, it is not just agricultural commodities, but wood, steel, and copper prices that have gone through the roof and continue up on a daily basis.

The global food price index rose for its 11th straight month to April to 120.9. This is a seven-year high and a 30.7% increase from April, 2020, and is the fastest rise in food inflation levels since 2011.

The Bloomberg Commodity Index, which tracks 23 futures contracts in six commodity sectors, gained 55% in 263 trading days from April, 2020, which is its biggest percentage movement in less than 300 days. This is since the 55% drop during the 2008 financial crisis.

Higher US spending throughout the pandemic has stimulated economic activity, and this has caused inflation fears and weakened the value of the US dollar and the GB pound/US dollar exchange rate which has gained 21% since March, 2020, and of note last week, the Bank of England voted to leave UK interest rates unchanged at a current record low of 0.1%.