In Greek mythology Cassandra was endowed with the gift of prophecy. But unfortunately, even though she was proved to be correct, no one believed her.
I know how she must have felt! When I said last month that spot UK wheat would have to fall at least another £5 per tonne to calculate for export, I really didn’t think that would happen. But it did, and some. To put this in perspective, throughout the whole month of August, November wheat futures only fluctuated by 50p either side of £120. So, we all thought, the market had reached some level of stability. Boy, did we get that wrong! During September so far, it has lost another £13 per tonne.
Why? Well apart from the UK stellar yields (say 8.3 tonnes per hectare) it’s mostly France again. We were crowing last month about UK milling wheat exports to France. They have certainly repaid that with interest. France has flooded our traditional feed wheat outlets such as Ireland and the ethanol plants in the North East with really cheap feed.
The giant export terminal in Rouen recently reached saturation point and for the first time in living memory. It had to refuse further wheat intake from coops until something was shipped out. Unfortunately, the boats due all want milling wheat which they don’t have – hence the panic selling of feed at any price to make space.
Bearing in mind we are looking at a UK exportable surplus of three million tonnes plus, our exports so far are pretty pathetic. But, at least with the last drop in price we really are competitive with other world feed wheat sellers now, so exports should start to pick up. Most exports so far have been low grade group one and two milling wheat and these should continue. Proper milling wheat, as predicted, has been the only really good news, with premiums of at least £40 being paid. While the demand is still good, pre Christmas is now getting full up, so don’t stop selling at those levels even if it’s into the new year.
As you know, I have been more friendly to barley than wheat, and I have not changed my view of that. We didn’t grow anything like the quantity of barley in the world compared to what we had last year, and if you are a camel, the demand is inelastic. In other words, you must have barley.
UK barley exports are more than 400,000 metric tons (mt) so far – so way ahead of wheat. One of my other Cassandra efforts “that feed barley would trade at a higher price than feed wheat” has already happened. But that will only occur while there are big barley boats being exported, so you have to time your feed barley sale to coincide with one of those. Between boats, compounders won’t use barley unless its cheaper than wheat, so you don’t want to even think about that.
I have encouraged the sale of malting barley right through to next June 2015 for two good reasons. Firstly, the premiums have been too high. Bearing in mind that everything is low nitrogen anyway and Scotland has had a good crop, there is no premium for distilling barley in the south of England. Secondly, if the yields are 6.3 tonnes per hectare the UK will have a malting surplus circa 600,000 mt. We had about 400,000 mt last year. Openfield exported over half of it and it took right round to July to ship it all, with premiums falling to £5 over feed.
With a 600,000 mt surplus I don’t think we can expect to ship it all because of the big malting crops they have had in Europe. So there is a danger that malting barley, left until later in the new year, will have no home other than feed. So get on and sell it while you can.
There was a brief spark of hope when currency went back above 80p for a week. Alas, it didn’t last. Scotland voted “no” (actually I would have settled for them shoving off, in return for sterling going lower and the market improving for just a few days). My opinion remains unchanged: bank the premium on your milling wheat and malting barley.
Oilseed rape has dropped in line with currency, but sell that if you don’t have milling or malting. As for feed barley, sell when the big boats are in or coming. On feed wheat, I only get three out of five of my decisions right usually. I have done OK with milling/malting/oilseed rape/feed barley. I think I will leave feed wheat up to you. By the way, the other reason why Cassandra didn’t do too well was that her prophecies of doom were unheeded. So no change there then.