Well a few of my predictions seem to be coming right at last. Wales to go further in the Rugby World Cup than England, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to back track on global maize crop estimates.
In September the USDA cut 7.5 million tonnes off global maize production, and the first actual off the field yields in the United States are lower than the USDA have been forecasting. OK, it’s small beer compared to the USDA saying that the world has had three consecutive record wheat harvests for the first time ever.
Closer to home, something else I presaged a few months back was corrected this week. DEFRA and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board have removed about one million tonnes of wheat from the UK 2014 wheat crop, and the consequent carry into this harvest. Boiled down it means that we may only have 2.4 million tonnes of wheat surplus rather than 3.5 million tonnes.
Yes, I know; it’s a bit like being told in America that your life sentence has been reduced from 150 years to only 100 years. But it is a start. It’s even more daunting when you consider we have only shipped about 100,000 tonnes of this so far. But, with sterling weakening to about 74 pence to the euro, believe it or not, the UK is actually competitive with other origins for the first time in months.
OK, that means we have a lot of work to do to make the export sales, and that’s what we are good at. But farmers need to play a big part in feeding the bull. So long as we have a steady supply of wheat coming to fill these boats, we have a fair chance of eventually putting a big dent in the surplus.
If the supply tap is turned off, world feed wheat buyers have plenty of other origins to choose from at the price. One thing which may make you feel better: at our recent White Horse crop marketing group meeting in Kent, we crunched some numbers. These revealed that whereas before harvest we were aspiring to make £135 ex for feed wheat based on three tonnes per acre, the extra yield enjoyed by many of those members meant that four tonnes per acre could be sold for as little as £101.50, and it would produce the same gross margin. It is food for thought, and where you have had the higher yield you can adjust your selling ideas to fit with the short term market. After a month of steady decline, the UK wheat futures rallied a bit in the last 10 days of September; market lows were hit, and have bounced by about £4, £5 on a good day.
Last month I tempted fate by saying that harvest pressure wouldn’t materialise: that proved to be correct. I will tempt it further by saying that the wheat market has already reached the bottom, and should not return there. However, you mustn’t neglect the carry in the market. Its possible that the October price of wheat could be the same in November and December; so, if you can make £1 per tonne per month carry, sell the forward price now. It’s better than the cost of interest.
Feed barley is a much slower burning fuse. The Chinese economy has taken further hits in the last month. They have become stricter on feed imports. One reason is a lack of cash to pay for it, and the second is China is now having it’s bluff called about all these supposed massive stocks of grain and soya which they keep reporting, via the USDA. If they haven’t got them, there will be some very hungry people out there, and they will have to resume importing: we shall see. So feed barley wants to be kept until the new year.
Sorry to keep boasting, but I was right about oilseed rape as well. The price has increased significantly over the last month. Openfield has many cargoes to ship and weak currency is helping as well. It can again be sold at a reasonable gross margin including oils.
No one should underestimate the size of the task the UK has to export enough of its wheat and barley in order to get the price up and to liquidate the surplus before next harvest. We have to keep trading.
I am beginning to think the old adage that the world is only one poor harvest away from a huge price rise and famine no longer applies. With the carried over surpluses of wheat and barley from the last three record years, I fear we would now need two consecutive crop failures somewhere in the world to see a sustained return to big prices. Certainly unless El Nino causes havoc in the next three months in the southern hemisphere, the world will add more to its wheat stocks.
Anyway, we now have reasons to be a little more optimistic. Things could be worse: you could have just gone long on Volkswagen shares. Lastly my dark horse for the world cup despite losing to Japan is South Africa.