Grain markets remained sluggish this week (w/e Sept 23) despite news that DEFRA had drastically revised down its December 2004 plantings estimate.

With UK wheat uncompetitive into Mediterranean ports and farmers focusing on cultivations and drilling, there was little change in values.

But DEFRA has been criticised for survey errors which shrink the 2005 UK wheat crop by 500-600,000t, cutting the exportable surplus by about 20%.

Gleadell’s managing director, David Sheppard, said the news had registered only briefly on the London wheat futures market. “This reduces the total crop from about 15.6m tonnes to just over 15m.”

Traders were struggling to find new export business, he said. “Estimates range from 400,000t to 500,000t of wheat shipped by the end of September, but this does include old crop from July.

Mr Sheppard was critical of DEFRA for its error. “We get crop estimates from ONIC (France) and the German ministry of agriculture within days of their farmers completing harvest. We won’t know DEFRA’s estimates of our harvest until next January.”

Grain trader Glencore said a series of glaring errors by DEFRA had resulted in a completely misleading set of figures.

Paul Rooke of the Agricultural Industries Confederation said the AIC had written to DEFRA expressing its frustration at the impact errors in DEFRA’s statistics have on UK grain market planning and operation. People rely on this information.”

A spokeswoman for DEFRA acknowledged there had been errors in recording wheat plantings. “Some wheat data was keyed in incorrectly. It’s important we learn from this and we are strengthening our procedures accordingly.”

Feed wheat was worth £60-£63/t as Farmers Weekly went to press, with milling premiums of £12-£14/t available. Barley had changed little, with prices on a par with feed wheat. Average spot values for rapeseed had firmed by about £1/t on the week to £136/t.

For regional cereals prices, see Farmers Weekly, Sept 23 edition, p143.