EU trims wheat yield hopes - but cites dryness in Spain, not France


The European Union trimmed forecasts for its soft wheat yield, but thanks largely to downgrades for Italy and Spain rather than the much-watched French crop, in a report which downgraded hopes for Ukraine too.

The European Commission's Mars agricultural meteorology division lowered by 0.05 tonnes per hectare, to 5.86 tonnes per hectare, its forecast for this year's soft wheat yield in the EU, the top grower of the grain.

The downgrade, which lowered to 0.30 tonnes per hectare the recovery in the figure from last year's rain-depressed result, comes amid mounting worries over the impact on the French crop, the EU's biggest, of recent hot and dry weather.

However, the estimate for the French soft wheat yield was kept at 6.77 tonnes per hectare, and the country's winter barley result upgraded by 0.41 tonnes per hectare to 6.17 tonnes per hectare, with Mars instead focusing on damage from "exceptionally warm and/or dry conditions" in some other countries.

'Severely limited'

These included Italy, for which Mars cut its soft wheat yield forecast by 0.44 tonnes per hectare to 5.37 tonnes per hectare.

"Temperatures have constantly been above the long-term average since May 11 in almost all" the country, said Mars, flagging late-June heat too.

"These thermal conditions have accelerated grain filling in winter cereals, resulting in lower dry mass accumulation," and yield downgrades.

For Spain the soft wheat yield forecast was cut by a further 0.31 tonnes per hectare to 2.66 tonnes per hectare – a tumble of 31% year on year – after "exceptionally high temperatures" limited hopes.

"Yield expectations for winter cereals are severely limited by the persistent dry conditions prevailing during the growing season," the bureau said, adding that accumulated temperature readings in Portugal and Spain over May and June "are amongst the highest of the past four decades".

"The hot conditions during May and June were unfavourable for soft wheat and barley, shortening the grain filling period."

French estimates

However, for France, Mars kept at 6.77 tonnes per hectare its forecast for the soft wheat yield this year – a 26% improvement on last year's rain-devastated crop, although still a little behind the average result of 7.07 tonnes per hectare.

For winter barley, now being harvested, the yield estimate was upgraded by 0.41 tonnes per hectare to 6.17 tonnes per hectare.

The upgrades contrast with weakening condition ratings from France's official FranceAgriMer bureau of domestic crops, with the soft wheat crop rated 68% "good" or "excellent" as of last week, compared with 75% as of a month ago, when Mars issued its previous rating.

For winter barley, the deterioration in the FranceAgriMer rating was less stark, at 64% as of last week compared with 67% a month ago.

'Greatly impact cereals yields'

Mars flagged the benefit of precipitation on French crops, after a dry spring, saying that rainfall has been "average since the beginning of May in all regions" of the country.

"The rain was beneficial for all crops, and limited the impact of water stress on winter cereals."

Still, the bureau held the door open for further French crop downgrades ahead, after temperatures "increased sharply in mid-June.

"The headway is expected to greatly impact cereals yields," citing daily maximum temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, and minimums above 20 degrees, for "several days in a row".

Ukraine, Russian prospects

Mars also downgraded by 0.37 tonnes per hectare to 3.91 tonnes per hectare its forecast for the Ukraine wheat yield, taking the figure comfortably below last year's 4.21 tonnes-per-hectare result.

"While worries of a potential frost kill have been assuaged, a rain deficit in central Ukraine negatively impacted winter cereals and spring barley," the bureau said.

But for Russia, Mars stressed that "abundant rainfall provided adequate water supply for canopy growth and biomass accumulation.

"The yield outlooks are lower than those of the previous record year, but are still good."

However, the bureau did highlight the prospect of a delayed harvest of spring crops, thanks to a wet and cold spell in spring.

"Spring crop development is significantly, by one to three weeks, delayed in northern and eastern European Russia due to the delayed sowing campaign and frequent occurrence of below-average temperatures since mid- April."


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