UK crops struggle, with 20% of rapeseed 'at risk'

Adas revealed the extent of the battle that the rain-beset UK faces to avoid another disappointing harvest in 2013, cautioning that 20% of winter rapeseed was at risk of failure, and that some wheat had already been written off.

The consultancy cautioned that for wheat, for which farmers have cut sowing intentions to the lowest in more than a decade, only 75% had been drilled as of today, with the ideal planting window already closed.

"The wet summer and high autumn rainfall caused serious delays to autumn drilling," Adas said, cautioning that much of what had been planted looked in poor health.

"The late drilling of many crops, slow establishment in cold, wet soils and slugs - which have thrived in the wet summer and autumn period - resulted in a higher proportion of crops of questionable viability compared to recent years."

'Some crop failures'

Indeed, slugs "are a continuing problem, with high numbers and few frosts to slow activity, so multiple treatments have been required in many fields".

Farmers have already booked "some crop failures", with Adas currently estimating that 7% of wheat "may not survive the winter".

The extent of the slowness of crop development was evident in the proportion of wheat at the tillering stage 10%, down from the level of 80% a year ago.

'Particularly at risk'

For winter oilseed rape, which typically makes up the great majority of the UK crop, "an estimated 20% is of questionable viability", largely later-sown crop which has developed poorly.

"The later-drilled crops, especially those drilled after mid-September have struggled to establish with slow growth and most plants remain at the two-to-four leaf stage, often with small plant size," Adas said.

"Small crops are particularly at risk from over-winter frost kill, slug damage or pigeon grazing."

Of the major crops, barley was in better condition, with 5% at risk, although even here only 25% of the crop had started tillering, compared with 90% a year ago.

Price implications

The comments highlight the potential for the UK to suffer another poor harvest in 2013, after a rain-beset 2012 crop for which yields fell to a 20-year low, with particularly poor quality too, leaving the UK on course to become, unusually, a net importer.

Grain merchant Gleadell said that, with the poor sowings progress, "and adverse weather providing no opportunities to begin drilling again, the likelihood for next season of a much-reduced acreage and again below-average yields becomes more of a reality.

 "In this context it is not difficult to understand the strength of both the old and new crop futures markets."

Gleadell cautioned over the threat of a steep prices which HSBC flagged this week, and said that "the drop, when it comes, could be dramatic - markets never look so bullish as when they are their top.

"But we may have a few pounds per tonne to go on the upside yet."

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