French farm ministry raises wheat crop estimate, cautious on maize - GulfToday

French farm ministry raises wheat crop estimate, cautious on maize


A harvester machine is used at a maize field in Bouchain, France. Reuters

France’s farm ministry raised its estimate for the soft wheat harvest by more than 1 million tonnes, adding to expectations that a bumper wheat crop was unscathed by record-breaking heatwaves.

However, it warned that hot weather and drought was raising question marks over the maize harvest, though its initial production outlook was for an increase from last year’s level.

French production of soft wheat, the country’s main cereal crop, forecast at 38.2 million tonnes, up from the ministry’s initial estimate a month ago at 37 million tonnes and 12% above last year’s output, it said in a crop report on Tuesday.

Traders and analysts have also raised their estimates as the harvest enters its final stages showing strong yields and little impact from searing heat in late June and late July.

Many market participants now expect soft wheat output to reach 39 million tonnes, which would be the second-largest volume on record behind the 40.9 million tonnes harvested in 2015.

The ministry’s wheat crop estimate was based on a projected yield of 7.61 tonnes per hectare (t/ha), up from 7.37 t/ha forecast in July and 8.2% above the average of the past five year’s, together with a harvested area of 5 million hectares, up from 4.9 million last year.

It also raised its estimate for French barley production. The ministry now expects output of 13.4 million tonnes, up from last month’s forecast of 12.6 million tonnes and 19.8% higher than last year’s crop.

The revision reflected both increased yields and further area gains, with spring barley benefiting from farmers replacing struggling rapeseed crops.

In its first forecast of this year’s grain maize harvest, the ministry projected production up 4.9% from last year at 13.1 million tonnes.

A rise in planted area to 1.47 million hectares from 1.37 million is expected to offset a projected decline in yield to 8.93 t/ha from 9.16 t/ha. However, the ministry said the impact on maize of the harsh summer weather remains unclear.

“The initial estimates made two months before the start of harvesting have to be treated with caution given the heatwaves and drought that have particularly affected this crop,” it said.

Maize (corn), mostly harvested in the autumn, has endured parched conditions during crucial growth stages. Water restrictions because of widespread drought in France have meant that irrigated farms have also suffered from a lack of moisture.

For rapeseed, which has also been subject to adverse growing weather, the ministry trimmed its production estimate to 3.5 million tonnes from 3.6 million tonnes. That would be down 30.5% from last year and 33.1% below the five-year average.

Farming agency FranceAgriMer raised its estimate of French soft wheat stocks at the end of the 2018-19 season last month but the volume was still a five-year low for the European Union’s biggest wheat producer.

In monthly cereal supply-and-demand data published on its website, FranceAgriMer pegged stocks of soft wheat at the end of the past season on June 30 at 2.5 million tonnes.

That was up from 2.4 million tonnes estimated a month ago, but well below an average 2.9 million for the previous five seasons and the lowest volume since 2013-14.

The relatively low stocks volume could help France absorb what is expected to be a much larger wheat harvest this year, particularly given what traders see as tepid export demand at the start of the new 2019-20 season.

On-farm wheat stocks, estimated separately to FranceAgriMer?s main commercial stocks figure, were also expected to have fallen to a five-year low at 400,000 tonnes. The upward adjustment to FranceAgriMer’s 2018-19 wheat stocks estimate mainly reflected a 200,000 tonne reduction for a demand category covering non-specified miscellaneous uses in France.

Wheat demand was also trimmed due to a slight decrease in French soft wheat exports outside the EU in 2018-19, to 9.7 million tonnes from 9.75 million last month.

A downward revision to French non-EU exports had been expected by traders after a slow end to the season in which France notably saw competition from other origins in its main overseas market Algeria.

The 2018-19 soft wheat exports outside the EU would nonetheless be 19.5% above the 2017-18 level, while shipments within the EU were seen falling around 18% to 7.6 million after a strong previous season.

For other cereals, FranceAgriMer lowered its estimate of 2018-19 maize ending stocks to 2.8 million tonnes from 3.0 million, notably due to a 100,000 tonne increase to intra-EU exports and a 50,000 tonne reduction in imports.

However, expected maize stocks that would be up nearly 10% against 2017-18 ending stocks and also well above a five-year average of 2.5 million.


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