Good French, UK crop condition fuels hopes for EU harvest rebound


Ideas of a recovery in the European Union wheat harvest this year received a boost with crop reports from two of the bloc's top three wheat-producing nations, although there is a diverging picture on spring sowings progress.

FranceAgriMer - crop bureau for France, the EU's top grain-growing country – pegged at 93% the proportion of the domestic soft wheat crop rated in "good" or "excellent" condition as of Monday, a figure unchanged week on week.

For winter barley, the rating was 90%, unchanged week on week, although the durum figure, at 82% was down 3 points week on week.

Although all three figures were a little below those of a year ago, they are still well within territory pointing to decent yield prospects – assuming no repeat of 2016's poor summer weather, which devastated the quality and quantity of France's summer-harvested grains.

'Low' disease levels

Separately in the UK, the EU's third-ranked wheat producer, crop consultancy Adas said that the "vast majority of [autumn-planted] crops have come into the spring in good condition.

"The relatively dry and mild conditions during the autumn and winter allowed pesticide applications to be made as planned and there are few weed, pest or disease issues to report at this stage in the season."

Disease levels were termed "low" in both winter barley and wheat crops, while for rapeseed, in most areas "mild conditions throughout the winter period led to good winter survival, with few crops being lost due to poor viability".

The "exception" to this bright start for rapeseed was in eastern England, "where pressure from dry soil conditions at drilling, slugs and cabbage stem flea beetle led to sub-optimal plant populations".

Cabbage stem flea beetle has been a growing problem for rapeseed production since restrictions were placed on use of neonicotinoid insecticides and, indeed, UK sowings of oilseed for the 2017 harvest have been estimated at their lowest in 13 years.

Control of black grass, the major weed issue facing UK farmers, was termed by Adas as "good as the dry and mild conditions meant that more crops than usual received the planned full autumn herbicide programme".

'Too wet to work'

However, on spring crops, UK growers had not seen the acceleration in the spring sowings pace enjoyed by the counterparts in France, where the spring barley crop was rated by FranceAgriMer as 32% seeded as of Monday.

That represents a rise of 15 points week on week, and compares with sowings progress of just 11% as of the same time last year.

In the UK, sowings had been completed on just 1% before heavy rains, brought by Storm Doris, "resulted in land becoming too wet to work, and halted any further progress".

Last year, 5% of spring barley seedings had been completed by the end of February, with 20% of crop in eastern region seeded.

Recovery hopes

The comments come the day after the European Commission, in its first forecasts for EU crops in 2017-18, pegged soft wheat output at 143.0m tonnes, up 5.7m tonnes year on year.

Total wheat production, including a slightly smaller durum crop, was pegged at 151.8m tonnes.

That compares with a forecast on Thursday from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization of a 150.0m-tonne harvest, while Strategie Grains has pegged the crop at 152.7m tonnes, including 143.8m tonnes of soft wheat.

The commission forecast increased production fuelling a 4.9m-tonne rebound to 28.9m tonnes in EU soft wheat exports in 2017-18.


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