UK winter wheat sowings dip even more than thought

The wettest year on record in England cut sowings of winter wheat even more than had been thought, with plantings falling below 1.4m hectares for the first time in more than 30 years.

The first official data on national plantings, from the HGCA crop bureau, estimated sowings in England, which account for the vast majority of UK seedings, at 1.39m hectares, a drop of 25% year on year.

The figure, the lowest since the 1.34m hectares planted for the 1979 harvest, is accurate as of December 1, meaning it could yet be swollen by late seedings.

However, consultancy Adas last week said that farmers had managed to do "little fieldwork" over the winter been done, at least until the middle of February.

Commentators that has spoken to had talked of winter wheat plantings falling 20%, or potentially a little less.

Depressed yield potential?

The data "reflect an extremely difficult autumn planting season," the HGCA said, also revealing a 19% drop in barley sowings in England and Wales to 279,000 hectares as of December 1, a figure which would be the lowest since at least the 1970s.

And the bureau added that even the crops that had been sown were "likely to be poorly established" because of the excessive damp".

"This may make crops less resilient against any extreme weather into spring and summer," senior analyst Jack Watts said.

Price impact

As a further threat to growers, these harbingers of a weak harvest come at a time when many countries are forecasting bumper crops, with Australia's Abares bureau, the International Grains Council and the United Nations also foreseeing a rebound in the world harvest.

"It is important to remember that despite the condition of UK crops, UK grain and oilseed markets operate in a global market," Mr Watts said.

"It is critical to monitor the global situation, which will be the main price driver," with the UK situation affecting the relationship between domestic prices and those on the world market.

Rapeseed warning

He singled out in particular the need for rapeseed farmers to take an international view of pricing potential.

While rapeseed farmers face elevated levels of crop abandonment, albeit on sowings down only 1% year on year, "whether this has an effect on prices remains to be seen", the HGCA said.

 Mr Watts said: "When considering rapeseed price direction, it needs to be looked at from a European perspective.

"In this context, the UK and to a smaller extent, France are the only major producing member states [in the EU] with crop condition issues so far." cautioned in January over the threat to UK farm profitability from a year promising both depressed crop production and lower prices.

Seed squeeze?

The extent of the ground left unplanted is expected to foster a rush to sow spring barley, traditionally the crop favoured in springs following difficult autumn sowings.

UK sowings of spring barley are widely expected to top 800,000 hectares, rising by at least 30%.

"However, the availability of seed could be a limiting factor," Mr Watts said.

Poor 2012 weather to leave long shadow for UK growers
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