The continued poor farming weather in the UK poses an increasing risk of landing growers with a second difficult season, delaying sowings, hampering emergence of what has been planted and lowering yield hopes.
The return of wet and dull weather – the south east of England went eight days without seeing the sun last month – has left growers, whose 2012 wheat crop was the worst in a generation, well behind on autumn seedings for the 2013 harvest.
Farmers, traders and analysts that Agrimoney.com spoke to estimated that winter wheat sowings were, on average, 60% complete, compared with 85-90% usually by now.
Delays are particularly severe on heavier land, typically in more westerly areas, where some growers have not managed any plantings.
"They can still plant until January. But they are already past the time of optimum yields. There is a yield penalty for every day they delay," a UK grain trader told Agrimoney.com.
"You might be looking at 3.5 tonnes per acre now, compared with 4 tonnes per acre a month ago, and 3 tonnes per acre might be the best you could expect planting in January."
'Struggling like hell'
However, even growers which have managed to get crop into the ground have seen emergence delayed, besides damage from the slugs encouraged by the wet weather.
One farmer in Gloucestershire, "where the land is supposed to be light", said that, besides knowing farmers "who have not planted a grain of wheat, what is planted, including my own, is being ravaged by slugs".
The farmer, a member of an international farmers group, dismissed as "tosh" estimates by Strategie Grains on Wednesday that the European Union looked placed for a sharp revival in output next year, despite slow sowings in the UK and some other countries, notably France, too.
"Most crops that have been drilled are struggling like hell. I would say around 40% of wheat has been drilled here and surrounding areas, and most of that looks very poor.
"Speak to any farmer, here in England, France, Germany and they will all tell you the same thing."
Observations, on emergence and crop damage, were even worse for rapeseed than winter wheat.
Rory Deverell at FCStone's Dublin office flagged market talk that the UK rapeseed crop was "under threat" of a 50% loss in 2013 if weather follows up the poor autumn growing conditions with a cold winter, which weakly developed plants would be in a poor state to survive.
At merchant Gleadell, managing director David Sheppard said that this appeared an overly gloomy outlook, given that rapeseed is "remarkably resilient, and can end up producing a crop even when it looks all but lost".
'Opportunity for spring barley'
Nonetheless, he said that the poor overall sowing conditions looked like prompting a "big rise in spring plantings" of crops such as barley, oats, wheat and rapeseed, a point echoed by many other observers.
Spring barley consultancy RMI Analytics said that the UK's spring barley area "has the potential to increase by 50%" year on year for the 2013 harvest
"The opportunity for spring barley is there," RMI's Matthias Wree said, flagging a return of a premium for malting barley, usually spring-grown in the UK, for 2013-14.
On the Continent, premiums looked close to E40 a tonne, recovering from current levels of about E5-10 a tonne, eroded by the demand for feed which is encouraging some malting barley to be used in livestock rations.
'Slowed to a trickle'
Nonetheless, markets are still encouraging farmers to plant winter wheat too, with November 2013 futures trading at £189.00 a tonne on Thursday - some 30% higher than the price that the November 2012 lot was offering a year ago.
"The rewards are there if you can get the stuff in the ground," the grain trader said.
"The trouble is that people are obviously not getting it in, as sales of new crop have slowed to a trickle."
A farmer in Herefordshire said: "Even if you can get planted, you do not want to sell much ahead in case we have a repeat of this year," when not only yields fell, to a 20-year low, but bushel weights dropped to the lowest on records going back to 1977.
That meant many crops failed to make specifications, even for feed.
"If we do get a decent harvest, you can bet your bottom dollar prices will be nowhere near where they are today."