Wetness bodes ill for UK spring plantings too

The wet weather which has already hurt UK's farmers' 2012 harvest, and autumn plantings, is threatening efforts to make a make-up with spring sowings too, and is still keeping many growers from their fields.

The new year as brought drier conditions to many parts of the country, although the south west in particular has continued to be dogged by floods.

However, fields remain widely waterlogged, preventing machinery getting on to land to finish winter crop sowings typically completed by November or prepare for the spring seeding window.

"We are getting towards the early spring planting season now," Jack Watts, senior analyst at the HGCA crop bureau, said.

"Conditions are not favourable for an early start to spring planting."

And these sowing conditions, "will be as influential, if not more influential, than the outlook for returns" in farmers' on spring sowing plans, and their ability to fulfil them, Mr Watts told

Poor prospects

The comments follow a dismal autumn sowing period, in which only some 80% of planned plantings were completed because of waterlogged soils, and with much of what was sown lost to flooding and slug attacks.

One Oxfordshire farmer spoke to on Monday estimated losses of 80% of his winter rapeseed to slugs.

The extent of still-unplanted land, on which the HGCA is in March to unveil more detailed estimates, has created the prospect of a historically-large spring seeding programme.

Crop choices

Spring milling wheat, a minority crop in England, has - unusually overtaken malting barley as appearing the most profitable spring choice, on HGCA calculations, although the bureau advised growers to ensure a market for the grain before choosing it for seeding plans.

Crop margin forecasts for English spring sowings, according to HGCA

Milling wheat: £828 per hectare

Feed wheat: £794 per hectare

Milling oats: £728 per hectare

Human consumption beans: £663 per hectare

Malting barley: £634 per hectare

Feed barley: £615 per hectare

The forecast reflects expectations of a doubling in the discount of barley to wheat, of £20 a tonne, given the poor prospects for the winter wheat crop, and a drop to £15 a tonne, from £40 a tonne, in malting barley premiums."A rebound in European malting barley production in 2012 has been detrimental to premiums," said HGCA market specialist Lloyd Dixon.

The gross margin on milling oats is also, at £728 a tonne, relatively strong, down in part to growing domestic food demand for the grain, deemed to have health benefits in for example fighting cholesterol.

However, issues such as weather and availability of seed would have a big input into plantings choices, whatever the theoretical returns, Mr Dixon said.

Wetness bodes ill for UK spring plantings too
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