UK harvest prospects 'modest', says EU, noting 'high' pest pressures


European Union forecasters underlined "modest" expectations for the UK's grains harvest, warning of dents from "high" disease pressures, as merchants are already lowering hurdles on barley quality.

The EU's Mars agro-meteorology division, restating a forecast for a 9.9% drop to 8.09 tonnes per hectare its forecast for the UK wheat yield this year, flagged a double whammy from wet and dull weather for much of May and June, particularly in key southern cereals-growing areas.

"A mixture of above-average rainfall levels below-average radiation and high humidity may have affected grain filling and ripening," Mars said.

The conditions also "have led to persistently high pest and disease pressure", the unit said, flagging "negative effects on yields".

'Disappointing yields'

The comments come some 2-3 weeks before the start in earnest of the harvesting of wheat, the UKs main cereal crop, with kernel ripening indeed delayed somewhat by the poor weather.

However, "the harvesting of rapeseed and winter barley has started with mixed results, confirming the modest overall outlook" for grain yields, Mars said.

The comments chime with those from other commentators, such as Frontier, the grain trading joint venture between Cargill and Associated British Foods, which said that "the crop harvested to date has been variable but the general picture is of low specific weights, high screening levels and modest yields".

Traders at another major grain merchant, flagging a "difficult growing season", said that "the early rapeseed yields have been disappointing", but added that "whilst barley yields are below those seen in 2014 and 2015, they are still being reported above the five-year average".

'More flexible in their attitude'

In the west of England, where is based, the site has heard of buyers rejecting barley loads on grounds of low specific weight, a key quality metric, which measures the mass of grain per given volume (typically a hectolitre).

However, the major grain merchant said that, in the face of fears of extensive quality issues, some purchasers were lowering hurdle rates for some specification measures.

"We are seeing consumer homes become more flexible in their attitude towards sub-60 kilogrammes per hectolitre," the merchant said.

"When the dust finally settles a more constructive compromise allowance scale may become available."

Wheat prospects

The conditions have likely left the UK looking at a notable drop in its wheat production after, in 2014 and 2015, topping 16m tonnes in output in successive seasons for the first time.

A survey by the AHDB bureau showed British wheat area falling by 30,000 hectares this year to 1.79m hectares.

Assuming the yield of 8.09 tonnes per hectare that Mars has forecast would give a harvest of roughly 14.5m tonnes, down 1.9m tonnes year on year.


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