Friday, December 8, 2023

Milling wheat, malting barely harvests soar

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New season wheat contracts boost confidence with crop farmers quick to seize on better pricing.
The recent rise in wheat import prices is the result of Russia attacking grain transport infrastructure in Ukraine.
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Milling wheat and malting barley were the big hitters for arable farmers this past season as growers tackle the  new season’s winter and spring crop plantings.

New season wheat contracts have boosted confidence with cropping farmers quick to take advantage of better pricing.

The milling wheat harvest at 103,200t this past season was up 49% on last year, when contract issues had growers pursuing alternative crop options.

“We’re seeing some certainty and confidence return in wheat,” North Island Federated Farmers arable vice-president grains Andrew Darling said.

“There are varying opinions on the contracts put out in the last week or so, but I think they’re fair. 

“The biscuit wheat contracts got snapped up pretty quick. Meanwhile the latest Arable Industry Marketing Initiative (AIMI) reports yields were up 7% on average across the six milling and malting and feed cereal crops this past season.”

But Darling said there are very trying conditions for some North Island growers.

The AIMI report describes excellent harvest conditions in most South Island regions, though rain in March in parts of Canterbury and northern Southland doused crops, creating challenges for paddock access and the tail-end of the harvest.

It was much more difficult for North Island growers.

After continual rain, some spring crops had a reasonable harvest window – then February’s cyclone blew in, flooding paddocks and delaying the harvest. In some cases large portions of crops were lost.

Alongside the significant increase in milling wheat, the 62,700t of malting barley harvested was a 69% rise on the previous season. 

Darling said malting barley has been through a bit of a roller-coaster ride but is now strengthening up.

On the other hand, feed cereal markets have gone cold.

This appears to be a combination of an excellent growing season for grass and a slide in whole milk prices causing many dairy farmers to look very closely at where they can pull back costs.

Total feed wheat harvested at 303,800t was down 3% compared to last year, with only 72% sold at the time of the AIMI survey.

Of the 286,500t of feed barley, 40% was unsold, a lift of 47% compared to this time last year.

The amount of sold grain still on farms has become more than an irritation.

“Feed mills have been empty and grain should be flowing in,” Darling said.

“Growers are aware that the current standard 8 cents per day per tonne to store grain is a bit light, given the increase in insurance and interest costs, maintenance and quality control. 

“Federated Farmers and the United Wheat Growers are researching the true cost of storage for the grower and intend talking to mills and merchants about it.” 

Meanwhile autumn-winter sowings of feed wheat are predicted to be similar to plantings a year ago, while feed barley autumn-winter sowings are predicted to be down 900ha. 

Milling wheat autumn-winter sowings are predicted to be up by 1,400ha, malting barley up by 600ha, milling oats up 400ha and feed oats down 450ha.

There was expectation that the area in cereal could increase due to a decrease in ryegrass hectares, but the AIMI returns suggest that’s not the case and merchants are not seeing an increase in cereal seed sales.

Cropping farmers could be choosing different options, with increasing interest in alternative crops, the AIMI report suggests.

“But these are only small areas of hectares compared to cereal and grass.”

Farmers may also be considering the option to have fewer lambs and selling them earlier to avoid processing bottlenecks, as was an issue with the later finishing lambs this past season.

With the loss of live exports, farmers either won’t have cattle or will sell calves as bobbies, also impacting on the area of feed grass grown.

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