Post-harvest sampling, quality control and contract terms should be primary focus right now

With this year’s planted and harvested wheat area being one of the smallest for a very long time, along with both variable yields and quality, now’s the time to accurately and truthfully evaluate this year’s grain, and consider your plans for the next season.

With harvest behind us, the focus is now on analysing what was cut and the quality profile. Hopefully most of you have been very diligent
in taking samples this year. With milling and malting premiums being some of the highest ever seen, the incentive is to find the gold nuggets and cash them into your bank account. Having confidence in your quality profile in a year like this should be the key to achieving the best price you can; but please remember the results you get are only as good as the samples you took. End destination testing equipment will all be on various ring check systems, ensuring that they are calibrated to tell the truth just like their weighbridge. Some growers may not know
this, but I would also urge you to take time to refresh yourself with the contracts you are trading on. Most farmers trade on an AIC 1/21 and their merchant’s ex farm terms. If you have an issue at destination with a rejection or a claim you need to have read and understood the terms you traded on.

Premiums will be big, but so will claims. Claims are there as an incentive to make sure the consumers get grain that they can use and to
encourage you to find and load the best quality grains. What a big claim structure doesn’t mean is you can load poor quality grains and expect them to be tipped. Out-of-condition grain is just that, and as such it is vital you don’t forget about your grain. Mites and weevil are already on rejection lists along with poo of various types, so please remember your contractual obligations and ensure that every load is fully traceable. After all, your problem shouldn’t become someone else’s.

The quality of the crop aside, I’m concerned about the area planted and how we move forward from here. Defra’s June England survey would line 2023 up to be one of the smallest planted and harvested wheat areas for a very long time, if you exclude the extremes caused by weather in 2013 and 2020. This, matched with variable yields and the change in farm payments, does beg the question as to the UK’s self-sufficiency in wheat. Government and others may have some hard thinking to do if wheat land keeps coming out of production, but at farm level how many will consider changing barley for more wheat? How many throw the towel in with rapeseed and pulses? The point is that farmers
choose what to plant based on gross margin returns, ability to grow and rotations; but maybe it’s time to start looking at what everyone else is doing, looking at domestic demand for cereals and ensuring you are growing for a market that needs you.

Similarly, it’s about time the government realised the importance of timely accurate data. The UK’s 2023 planted wheat area has varied from
1.821M/ha to 1.715M/ha – that’s a big variation, but how confident are we in either number, and how con dent are we that the government can measure area moving forward? UK crop numbers remain in a black hole – with no more BPS numbers and a crop number in 2022 that left somewhere between 500/700k/mt of wheat as ‘unaccounted for’ at the end of the crop year – neither consumed or identified as stock, I feel food security maybe needs to become front and central or we will have no option but to import what we can grow but have been incentivised not to in the name of environmental good.

Fertiliser matters
With nutrient offtake from the soil during crop removal at harvest, this is a key time to carry out soil sampling to determine the amount of nutrient remaining in the soil. Having this information available helps you to ensure you are only applying inputs that are actually needed by future crops, rather than applying excesses, which can lead to unnecessary costs.

In addition to maximising your return on investment, soil analysis allows us to tailor fertiliser requirements to meet plant needs and so optimise yield whilst minimising environmental risk through nutrient use efficiency. Soil pH results will determine if lime applications will be required to reach optimum levels and ensure nutrients are available for uptake. Even at pH 6.0 on arable soils, nutrient uptake could be limited and therefore have a financial impact.

Another important matter to be aware of is the recent announcement made by the Home Office relating to changes in regulations for purchasing ammonium nitrate. From October 2023, buyers of ammonium nitrate, with a nitrogen content of 16% or more, are required to provide photo identification at point of purchase. This includes straight nitrogen, nitrogen sulphur and any compound or blended NPK grades above the threshold. For more info visit or speak with your fertiliser supplier.