Rains to the rescue after French wheat farmers draw short straw -Braun


Grain yields worldwide have consistently broken records over the last few years, but France has been unable to partake in that trend as much as it might like and the chance could be missed again this year.

Last year, France harvested one of its worst-ever wheat crops as intense spring rainfall led to yield losses close to 30 percent. The European country notched a record crop in 2015, but the two previous harvests were very lackluster, including one that took a big hit on quality due to late-season rains.

France's wheat crop is typically the world's fifth-largest, and the country is a key supplier of the grain within the region, including to other European Union members as well as North Africa. The vast majority of French wheat is the soft variety and is planted in the autumn.

The 2017-18 crop was sown in the autumn of 2016 under some of the driest conditions in many years, and precipitation levels ever since have been low. Wheat is a fairly resilient grain that can be refreshed coming out of a dry winter with good spring rains, but April was bone dry.

French soft wheat ratings plunged 16 percent during April, a decline not commonly seen this early in the year. Farm office FranceAgriMer rated 74 percent of the soft wheat in good or excellent condition as of May 1 after opening April around 90 percent (http://reut.rs/2phHDI9).

For comparison, good-to-excellent ratings for French soft wheat were 92 percent and 91 percent at the start of April 2016 and 2015, respectively. The 2016 score fell to 87 percent by the beginning of May while 2015 maintained at 91 percent.

The country did pick up some rain in the final week of April, but the modest amounts did nothing to prevent crop ratings from falling by 4 percent on the week.


May has brought along with it a vastly different weather pattern that will give much-needed relief to the fading crops. The next two weeks will be characterized by frequent rainy days all across the country, and the expected amounts are enough to make a difference.

The wheat-heavy Centre region could receive a total of 2.4 inches (61 mm) from May 6 through May 20, which is not that much less than what the area received in March and April combined. Most regions in the country can expect somewhere in the vicinity of 2 inches (51 mm) during this important time frame, as soft wheat was just 3 percent headed as of May 1.

Farmers will be delighted by the prospect of some rains, but last year may have made them wary of receiving too much of a good thing. Rains would not shut off during the entire spring of 2016. When they finally did, they never came back.

This took a toll on many of the country's summer crops including corn. French corn growers are looking to put the back-to-back disaster harvests of 2015 and 2016 behind them, and they could use a boost from the rains right now as 84 percent of the crop is now in the ground.

The fact that wheat crop ratings have already fallen so far leaves some uncertainty as to how much can be made up, especially after starting so dry. If the rainy forecast materializes but does not become a staple for the rest of the growing season, the crop should turn out OK, though possibly not atop record books.


France's misfortunes one year ago have potentially turned into extra business for U.S. wheat merchants.

The United States had the opposite problem of France in 2016 as it produced a much larger wheat crop than originally anticipated, driving stocks to 30-year highs and boosting the need for increased export business to stimulate prices.

FranceAgriMer expects that France will have exported about 10.7 million tonnes of soft wheat by the conclusion of the 2016-17 crop year this summer. This is about half the value from the previous year, and exports to non-EU countries have taken the biggest cuts. Those exports are estimated at about 5 million tonnes this year compared with 12.6 million last year.

Some of France's biggest customers in North Africa appear to have been scooping up much more of the U.S. product than usual this year, in fact about nine times the volume of last year. Through March, Algeria had made its largest U.S. wheat haul in nine years, and Morocco the largest in 23 years, combined with its own wheat crop disasters last year.

North Africa has provided the United States with 43.4 million more bushels of business so far in 2016-17 than in 2015-16. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has placed 2016-17 U.S. exports at 1.025 billion bushels, meaning that without the extra shipments this year, exports would be closer to 982 million bushels.


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