France bears brunt of downgrade to EU barley, wheat yield hopes

23.05.2017

French farmers are on course for below-average barley and wheat yields for a second year, European Union officials said as they cut forecasts for the bloc's cereals output, and warned over a "mediocre" German rapeseed yield too.

The European Commission's Mars agricultural research unit cut its EU yield forecasts for a range of crops, warning that over the past month "negative weather conditions hampered winter crop growth and development in several regions".

However, the downgrades were centred in part on Spain, where "persistent dry conditions started to impact vegetative growth in Castilla y Leon, one of the most important barley-producing regions in Europe".

The Spanish barley yield was pegged at 2.54 tonnes per hectare - down 0.46 tonnes per hectare from the previous forecast, and down 30% year on year.

And Mars highlighted crop impact from a "persistent lack of precipitation" in western France and "persistent low soil moisture and cold conditions" in the north of the country, as well as in Luxembourg and southern Belgium.

'Crops are most unlikely to recover'

In France, the EU's top wheat growing country, "conditions for winter cereals deteriorated substantially since mid-April," Mars said, noting that "no substantial rainfall was observed during the entire month.

"Winter cereals have been impacted by water stress," with low moisture levels also inhibiting the ability of plants to take-up nutrients.

"Crops are most unlikely to recover from the damage caused by water stress," the researchers said.

"The outlook for winter cereals is negative due to the drought," although recent gains will allow crops to sustain some growth.

Mars cut its forecast for the French soft wheat yield by 0.50 tonnes per hectare to 6.77 tonnes per hectare – a result which would be above last year's weather-devastated result, but below nonetheless, the five-year average.

'Yield expectations are mediocre'

Cuts were made to the estimates for France's barley and durum yields too, although the forecast rapeseed result, at 3.39 tonnes per hectare, was little changed on last month's figure, remaining in line with average levels.

Indeed, a reduction of 0.10 tonnes per hectare, to 3.17 tonnes per hectare, in the Mars estimate for the EU's rapeseed yield – a downgrade which took the figure below average levels – was attributed largely to Germany, where cold weather was seen as having damaged crops of the oilseed in particular.

A succession of frosts in Germany in late April and early this month caused damage "in particular for fruit trees and berry plantations, rapeseed and corn", Mars said.

However, "the frost damage to annual crops is most pronounced for rapeseed, where many of the early flowers were lost.

"Rapeseed yield expectations are mediocre," Mars said, forecasting a German result of 3.50 tonnes per hectare, down 0.35 tonnes per hectare on last month's figure, and meaning a below-average result.

UK upgrades

The comments come amid a growing acknowledgement of the damage to EU crop prospects from dry and cold weather, with Strategie Grains last week cutting its forecast for the bloc's wheat harvest, the world's biggest.

However, Mars said that weather had not been universally negative for EU farmers over the past month, and raised for instance its forecast for UK barley and wheat yields - by 0.14 tonnes per hectare to 6.37 tonnes per hectare, and by 0.09 tonnes per hectare to 8.16 tonnes per hectare respectively.

In both cases the revisions were sufficient to upgrade UK crop prospects to "higher than average", from "average".

"Despite the pronounced rain deficit, winter crops have performed quite well so far, as inferred from remote sensing operations and crop model simulators," Mars said.

"Overall, the yield outlook is positive, by more rain is needed to sustain high yield potentials."


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