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Examining spring crops' market potential

While increasingly popular spring barley and beans may have failed to deliver to potential this year, there remain significant market opportunities for spring crops.


While GB 2017 spring barley area was estimated at 725,000ha (1,790,750 acres) in AHDB’s planting and variety survey, up nine per cent from 2016, poor weather at harvest in some areas meant it failed to deliver on its potential.


“We expected a year of plenty and ended up with a lot less that we thought we’d get,” says Glencore’s Nick Oakhill.


Germination and protein issues were key reasons why spring barley failed to meet malting spec with a differential of £25-£30 between malting and feed prices at the end of October. “The financial implications for growers are steep and it will have an impact on exports for the rest of the season,” he says.


Poor returns on spring barley this year combined with an open autumn are likely to see winter wheat area increase at the expense of spring barley, says Mr Oakhill.


On paper, he says there is a 1.25mt exportable surplus of feed barley this year. “But so far exports have not got off to a racing start.


“At the moment farmers are doing a good job of holding barley back and the discount is narrowing to feed wheat. But we need to get some exports out for things to firm even more.”


Spring beans


Spring bean harvest 2017 was delayed, extending well into September, with quality affected, according to Agrii market development and pulse seed manager Peter Smith.


“On some areas the crops were subject to wet/dry conditions and the quality was not fantastic on general appearance and there was also a bit of bruchid around – the two big things that affect value for export.


“There is a demand but it is smaller than it has been in the past due to ongoing issues with currency in North Africa but there are reasonable premiums for anything less than three per cent bruchid – there are not many zeros around this year.”


It is a year where demand will be driven by quality of produce rather than variety, he adds. “I doubt if there will be much difference [between varieties] – I’ve not heard of a yield difference.”


There are concerns over seed quality because of the late harvest, he says. “Some of the germinations may be affected.”


Regarding the impact of Ecological Focus Area regulatory changes, banning the use of pesticides on EFAs, Mr Smith believes this is unlikely to deter larger growers committed to growing pulses from sticking with the crop. “Farmers grow beans where they fit the rotation. They’ve never made a tremendous amount but are the best of the bunch in the rotation.


“The smaller growers may come out – you can’t just grow half a field.”


He expects spring beans to see up to a 10 per cent reduction in area for harvest 2018.


While spring bean varieties are largely similar, Mr Smith advises growing varieties with the best agronomic and seed size characteristics such as Vertigo and Fanfare. “If the export level picks up and quality is good, these are the varieties buyers will pick up on first.”


As well as the human consumption market, there is also a reasonable demand for beans for animal feed, says Mr Smith. “The feed price isn’t bad at around £150/t. Where you can get 5-6t/ha and if you can get a premium on top of £15-£20 beans are not a bad proposition.”


Spring oats


Over the past ten seasons (2007/08 – 2016/17), the UK has been a net importer of oats nearly as often as it has been a net exporter; four a net importer, and six net exporter. This followed a 15-year period when the UK was nearly always a net exporter. The shift from consistent exporter to a more variable trade position has been driven by a variable domestic crop size but steadily growing UK milling demand, according to AHDB.


UK oat milling for 2016/17 was estimated by Defra at 0.522mt, slightly off the record high of 0.526mt reached last year.


Tom Yewbrey, Senova oat product manager says certified seed statistics for oats harvested in 2017 indicated a 50:50 split between winter and spring oats whereas previously winter oats have tended to occupy a greater area than spring oats. “Human consumption is the main market opportunity which oats in the UK tend to be grown for. Animal feed is the default when there is a surplus or for poorer quality oats.”


For the future, Senova is looking at oats with lower lignin in the husk which would make oats more digestible for livestock.


For human consumption, usage has been growing in the UK by about five per cent year on year for the past six to seven years. Requirements vary but millers usually look for a minimum specific weight of 50-52kg, screenings of less than six per cent and a maximum moisture content of 15 per cent, says Mr Yewbrey.


“There has been a lot of good product innovation in recent times – cereal bars, granola, mueslis and instant porridges and breads with oat flakes on top and using oat flour.”


There has been an increase in interest in growing oats over the past few years, says Mr Yewbrey. “They are coming back into people’s awareness as a valuable part of the rotation.”


Senova has seen good demand for winter oat seed this autumn but it is too soon to say what area of spring oats will be grown for harvest 2018, says Mr Yewbrey. “It is too early to put a number on it.”


For growers looking for security of marketing, a contract is a good idea, he says. “Speak to traders to find out about contract availability and specification – it can depend on the location.”



Richardson Milling, the Canadian conglomerate that bought Bedford-based European Oat Millers last year, is seeking growers of good quality spring oats as consumer demand continues to grow.


Supply for the human consumption market is currently dominated by the winter variety Mascani, but after a successful first year of trials with the KWS spring oat variety, WPB Elyann, Richardson Milling has tapped the growing interest in spring crops by offering contracts for the 2018 harvest, according to KWS.


Brin Hughes, Richardson Milling’s agronomy manager, says interest in WPB Elyann improved after positive on-farm results in 2017 and better than average hulling losses for a spring variety. This was further supported with seed rate and fertiliser trials performed in conjunction with KWS demonstrating that competitive yields could be produced with good hullabillity and without excessive screenings.


“WPB Elyann is the only spring oat we have tested with hulling losses consistently lower than the 30% desired limit," says Mr Hughes.

Spring wheat


Spring wheat, while sometimes used as a cultural control method for black-grass, does not have any significant markets that differ from those for winter wheat. James Webster, analyst, market intelligence, AHDB says: “Spring wheat is grown in much larger volumes in the US and has a specific export market because of its high protein content but spring wheat proteins are not much higher than for winter wheat in the UK.”


Following efforts by British Sugar last year to persuade more growers to grow sugar beet, the area grown for the 2017/18 campaign is more than 105,000ha, according to BS agriculture director Colm McKay.


“We anticipate that we will be looking at a broadly similar hectarage for the 2018/19 campaign,” he says.

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Soya surge

Soya surge

Albeit from a low base, soya saw considerable growth in plantings this year with 2,024ha (5,000 acres) sown compared with last year’s 404ha (1000 acres). Jacqui McNaughton, director of Soya UK says the company is ramping up seed production. “We are anticipating 20,000 acres will be grown in 2018.”


There are a number of reasons for the increase, she says. “We import so much soya there is a market for non-GM UK grown soya and the price is good. There is the opportunity to control black-grass – it is late sown allowing time for a couple of hits of Round-Up. Some are moving away from oilseed rape because of neonics.


“People are taking soya seriously – all these things were in place before but soya varieties have moved on. There are good yields and harvesting dates of mid-September to the end of September are typical.”


Typical yields are 2.5t/ha (1t/acre) says Mrs McNaughton. If soya is identity preserved and farm assured, prices of around £370/t are achievable, she adds.


Most enters the animal feed market but there are niche market opportunities for human consumption in products such as soya milk and tofu, says Mrs McNaughton. “We are importing hundreds of tonnes of soya from China for tofu. UK-grown, non-GM soya would be good for that.”


Suffolk-based farmer Philip Partridge achieved around 1.5t/ha (0.5t/acre) from his soya crop last harvest, although he says the crop was sown late. “It went in about a month later than it should have done; it was so dry. It went in on May 22. We harvested on 13-14 October.


“I’m not sure whether I’ll grow it next year but I wouldn’t rule it out. There were no major issues.”

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