Results from a recent survey by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB/HGCA) show that wheat crop quality is above average across most test samples this year compared with averages over the past three years.
Barley crops are similar with 2013 averages, showing better analysis than was previously expected, but concerns are mounting on declining prices. Specific weights and Hagberg Falling Number (HFN) averages are the highest recorded in recent years.
Specific weights are vastly improved compared to the past year’s harvest and HFN are averaging about 76kg/hl. Grain sizes are reported to be much bigger and brighter this year but in a number of cases protein levels are slightly lower than specification. Although certain malting barley crops have recorded low nitrogen content, the quality of spring barley in general is considered as being very good. Roger Dickinson, managing director of JO Straughan and past chairman of the National Association of Agricultural Contractors, considers the 2013 harvest has proven better than previously expected.
Speaking to The Journal, Mr Dickinson said: “Spring barley and winter barley analysis results are similar with good specific weights, nitrogen and low screening percentages. We have finished harvesting earlier than expected, which was partly due to the good weather conditions.
“This year, crops were being harvested in better conditions than in 2012 and this helped ripening. Combining of spring barley, spring oats and oils seed rape finished earlier this week and planting for the 2014 harvest is now well under way.”
Buyers are now testing oil seed rape as a result of green seed issues but crops have high levels of admix which is ranging from 10 to 20%. A high percentage of oil seed rape has required cleaning, although some farmers are doing the processes themselves, but oil content is higher than last year. As the 2013 harvest nears completion, grain traders are openly suggesting the increase in yields may result in detrimental pressure on prices. High yields have forced down prices by up to £20 per tonne for winter barley and £30 per tonne for spring barley. The lower price level may appeal to livestock farmers, owing to animal feed spike increases in recent years.
However, any price reductions are less appealing to arable farmers owing to increased cost of fuel, cultivations, reseeding and the increased cost of available quality seed corn in 2012. The inclement weather conditions experienced in autumn 2012 resulted in a record numbers of farmers opting to, or in a number of cases being forced to, plant spring barley crops as a viable alternative. This led to a 103% increase in the total crop area.
In England, the increased crop area has resulted in over 3 million tonnes of high-quality winter barley and spring barley having been passed fit for malting purposes. This compares to the normal annual requirement of 1.3 million tonnes for both the domestic and export markets. The increased tonnage on the market is having an impact on the premium payment price, which in previous years has been up around £45 per tonne for spring barley. The increased wheat harvest is expected to have produced an exportable UK surplus of 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes.
Successful harvests in France, Scandinavia and the Black Sea region are placing downward pressure on UK crop prices. This comes as weeks of dry conditions helped to deliver some of the best wheat quality in recent years, according to a HGCA survey.
Meantime, ADAS farming systems say more than 90% of the combinable crop area has now been lifted, with remaining Borders and Scottish cereal growers shortly expected to finish harvesting.