UK farmers lift wheat area but curb rapeseed plans

UK farmers planted more wheat than expected for the forthcoming harvest, but less rapeseed a trend which may set the scene for plantings for next season's crops too.

British wheat plantings for the upcoming harvest hit 1.96m hectares - a rebound of 22% from the 12-year low recorded for 2013, when a poor autumn planting season prompted farmers to switch to alternative spring crops, the HGCA crop bureau said.

The increase - which in implying a stronger harvest "supports the potential return of the UK to export markets" in 2014-15, after two seasons, unusually, as a net importer is larger than that signalled in a sowings survey late last year.

Since then, English and Welsh farmers have added more than 30,000 hectares to their wheat area.

Battle of the wheats

The extra area appears to have come in part at the expense of rapeseed, for which British farmers have planted 719,000 hectares for this year's harvest, an increase of only 4,000 hectares year on year.

While the second biggest rapeseed area figure on record, comparisons for England and Wales show that farmers sowed 14,000 hectares less with the oilseed than initially expected.

And the idea of rising wheat sowings, and pressure on rapeseed area, appears a theme for the next round of plantings too, given signals from the market, which see feed wheat as likely offering the best margins if down some 18% year on year on HGCA calculations.

Even though London feed wheat futures, for delivery 16 months ahead, are down some 10% year on year, the crop "has overtaken milling wheat, in terms of gross margin rankings, and us looking to be the most profitable crop for 2015", the HGCA said.

The promotion over highest grade Group 1 milling wheat reflects an assumption of a lower milling premium, of some £15 a tonne, the four-year average.

Rapeseed vs beans

Rapeseed, however, with margins seen tumbling 29%, fell to sixth out of the eight crop options assessed, ahead only of winter beans and winter barley.

In fact, factoring in the European Union's new "greening" rules, which demand crop diversification, ecological areas and permanent pasture in return for subsidies, crop rotations including field beans rather than rapeseed appear increasingly attractive.

The rules give an "increased incentive for planting less mainstream crops in 2015 rotations", the HGCA said.

"The gap between the average gross margins of rotations with rapeseed and rotations with field beans has narrowed.

"This could increase the incentive to plant field beans rather than rapeseed for harvest 2015, so some shift in area between these crops may be seen."

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