15 October 1999

MAFF puts grain yield at 22.5m tonnes

CEREAL growers harvested 22.5m tonnes of grain in 1999, according to MAFFs first production estimate released this week.

That is 1% lower than last year and well below most trade forecasts, though the results, based on 1500 farmer returns, are in line with earlier HGCA and NFU predictions.

Barley output was little changed at 6.67m tonnes. The area of winter and spring varieties fell by 7.3%, but yield rose slightly more, reaching 5.74t/ha (2.32t/acre).

Wheat production fell by 370,000t on the year to 15.1m tonnes as the poor autumn prevented many growers from drilling. Crop area fell over 9%, and yields, although 7.4% higher than 1998 at 8.12t/ha (3.29t/acre), could not make up the difference.

MAFFs total is substantially lower than trade expectations. Last month Dalgety predicted that a record national average yield of 8.58t/ha (3.47t/acre) would produce 15.9m tonnes of wheat. SCATS went for the same figure and Banks Agriculture plumped for 16m tonnes.

"We felt the crop might have been a little bigger," says David Balderson of Viking Cereals. "But we were never under tremendous pressure during harvest, so we did wonder where the 16m tonnes was. I would be surprised if the MAFF figure is more than 200,000t out."

He suspects trade figures may be reflecting results from better farms, rather than a true average.

Assuming the MAFF figure is right, he reckons the UK will have to export about 3.5m tonnes, slightly more than last year.

No downside

"We are considerably cheaper than the French at the moment. I cant see a downside. The French and the Germans will wait for intervention, and Denmarks exportable surplus is about 500,000t, 50% down on last year. That basically leaves the UK as the feed wheat supplier of Europe," he says. Although big shippers report little export activity, small east coast ports are "flat out", says Mr Balderson.

Dalgetys Gary Hutchings stands by his companys figures, based on results from 1000 farms. "We do our numbers on what we see."

But MAFFs lower production forecast is helping the market to build a base, he adds, though the unsettled £ remains a concern.

However, provided wheat stays at a £6/t discount to French FAQ wheat and £2/t below Danish grain, he believed third world business ought to come from the UK. That will help to reduce the exportable surplus, which he puts at over 4m tonnes. &#42