By Robert Harris

WINTER cereal plantings have plummeted from last years levels, according to latest ministry figures for England and Scotland.

But favourable market reaction could be premature, experts warn.

The annual December survey, based on returns from over 15,000 holdings in England, show that winter wheat plantings fell by 11%, almost double the level indicated by recently released NIAB seed statistics.

Increased set-aside (from 5 to 10%) and wet weather are blamed. New-crop futures have risen about £3/t since the figures were released, making November wheat worth almost £79/t ex-farm midweek.

But Gerald Mason of the Home-Grown Cereals Authority advises caution because the figures are only a snapshot based on plantings as at 1 December.

“In most years farmers would have planted most of the crops they had intended to by this time,” he says. “But I would imagine more would have been planted since then.”

Traders agree, though, just how much may have been planted means predicting crop size is more uncertain than usual.

Comments range from “certainly down 1m tonnes, perhaps more” to “2m tonnes less than 1998”. But there is general agreement that the figures from Scotland, which show a 32% drop in area, are unlikely to change much.

The UK is not alone – lower wheat plantings are predicted across the EU.

Coceral, the EU grain traders association, predicts this will cut wheat output this harvest by 7.2m tonnes to 87.1m tonnes. but wheat stocks are expected to rise by 4.7m tonnes.

Barley figures, which show a fall of 26% in England and Scotland, match the NIAB statistics.