Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Now how do they do that?

The Ministry of Agriculture is reporting that 94% of winter crops are in good or satisfactory condition.

These buoyant dispatches are a regular feature in Ukraine and are widely reported but have you ever stopped and thought how can they determine the condition of crops under snow and with such apparent accuracy?

I have no idea but I do know that in the old times agronomists would dig up a slab of frozen ground, bring it indoors, melt the snow off and look at the plants underneath. I'm not sure you can tell anything meaningful from this exercise but it did give the guys something to do during the long cold winter.

Personally I wouldn't take any notice of such data; at best it's subjective but more than likely it's just plain made up.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Football and grain prices

Liverpool's four match winning streak came to an end yesterday when they shared the points with Wigin in a thrilling'ish one all draw.

They new Liverpool manager and all round Kop hero "King" Kenny of Daglish has been fettered with turning the clubs fortunes around since they booted out the previous manager following a run of poor results.

Now consider this.

Statistical analysis shows us that a manger actually has very little influence over the result of a footie game; other factors particularly the size of the wages bill have a greater correlation.

Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have the highest wages relative to the average spending of all clubs and you have to go back 16 years before you find another team that topped the league.

What the laws of probability show is after a period of losing matches a winning period will inevitably follow regardless of who is in charge.

The previous manager is usually given his marching orders following a run of poor results when the new manager is brought and seemingly achieves a winning streak that was actually going to happen anyway.

So what does this tell us about the grain trade? Arguably nothing but as I ponder record wheat prices and the associated apocalyptic reports of food riots, revolutions and rationing I can't help but feel that it is all a bit of a familiar story.

What usually follows a spell of high prices? Low prices. What usually follows a spell of low prices? Well you get the picture.

We have had reports of poor productivity from around the world last year, droughts, floods, heat and cold compounded with political manipulation of the market through embargo's and export bans.

I think the truth is that one good harvest in Ukraine or Russia or Canada or wherever and we will see prices drop faster than a sexist Sky TV sports commentator.

Will we see similar high prices this time next year?
In my honest opinion I have no idea but one half decent run of results and no, I don't think we will.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Russian crop update

Actually it's more of a brief look at lots of snow.

What it does show is there has been a decent level of snow cover in the Kursk region which will help protect winter sown crops underneath.

Unfortunately the same can't be said further west in Ukraine where snow cover has disappeared over the last week or so just in time for a drop in temperatures. Not good.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Crop update 2011

Here’s a brief summary of the state of play of Ukraine winter crops as I see it at the moment.

Winter oilseed rape struggled to germinate and emerge in dry soil and age enough before the onset of winter.

The late warm spell at the back end of the year certainly helped but declining light levels coupled with underdeveloped plants meant any additional growth was small.

As a result I anticipate higher than average levels of winter kill. This in itself is not a major problem, the real issue is how farmers deal with the crop as they break dormancy.

There is a tendency amongst inexperience rape growers to assess a poor looking crop in March and to hold back on the inputs which then results in a poor yielding crop which leaves the grower feeling exonerated they made the right decision; a self-fulfilling prophecy if you will.

More often than not rape will bounce back to acceptable levels with a bit of TLC in the form of nitrogen and sunshine, but with rising fertiliser prices and growers short on working capital I suspect more than normal will bottle out and cut inputs.


Expect low yields as a result.

Autumn sown wheat & barley looked good going in to the winter, sown later than rape they did get some rain and emerged rapidly from moist warm seedbeds.

The late warm spell helped the later sown crops catch up and get to a decent size by the onset of winter with plants in central Ukraine putting on a 5-6 leaves with a couple of tillers.

While we still have a long way to go, current reports from farms suggest winter so far has been kind and crops are in good condition but it is worth remembering that they were in good condition this time last year when a rapid thaw followed by a return to sub-zero temperatures created pools of solid ice that killed an estimated 20-30% of the plants.

Temperatures in Kiev are currently well above freezing, even spring like and snow cover has been disappearing, however in scenes reminiscent to last year the forecast is for return to seriously sub-zero temperatures by the weekend.

The export ban has reduced working capital available for inputs and fertiliser and diesel prices are steadily rising so it looks set to be another challenging year ahead.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

New arrival

My new son arrived earlier this week, Sebastian Michael weighed in at a decent 3.6kg screaming his little head off.

Mother and baby doing fine.

Suffice to say Father is chuffed to bits.

Soil temperature, central Ukraine

The fantastic Gail Martell of Martell Crop Projections put me on to a source of data from which I was able to extrapolate soil temperatures during the winter spring transition phase.

Assuming plants break dormancy at around 5 degrees Celsius then spring arrives much later than many would believe.

Last year the soil in central Ukraine didn't reach 5 degrees until 23rd March and the long term average is 2nd April.