UK floods 'haven't dented crop prospects much'

The wettest month for the southern UK on record, which has left large areas of farmland under water, has caused only minor damage to the country's crop prospects, European Union researchers said, warning of greater hard to flooding in parts of Italy.

Researchers at the EU's Mars agricultural research unit acknowledged that 2014 had in the UK got off to its wettest start on their own records, which date back to 1975, "with repeated periods of continuous rainfall".

And while plants are usually in winter, being dormant, resilient to waterlogging, Mars cautioned that this year could be worse given relatively high temperatures that have accompanied the rains.

"This implies that soil oxygen is relatively rapidly consumed by roots and microbial activity leading to root asphyxia," the unit said.

"Depending on local conditions, the effects can vary from a slight impact on growth… to total crop loss and areas that have to be completely resown.

"Moreover, excessive rain implies nutrient losses, and affected areas could be more susceptible to disease outbreaks."

'Limited impacts'

However, in the UK and Ireland, the damage to crops had been curtailed by flooding hitting mostly livestock farms, rather than arable enterprises.

"Grassland areas are relatively more affected than croplands," Mars said in a report.

"At the national level the impacts on production are expected to be limited."

The UK is the EU's third-ranked wheat producer.

Damage appears to be "more serious in several areas of northern and central Italy, for which a relatively large share of arable land has been subject to prolonged rains combined with very mild temperatures".

'Very limited winterkill'

The briefing also noted the prospect for some "localised" damage from heavy rains in France, where southern areas and Brittany have suffered, and in north western Spain, where Associated British Foods separately highlighted setbacks to the sugar beet harvest.

However, the report also said that frost damage to European crops had been "very limited so far", thanks to warmer-than-usual conditions, with "no significant" winterkill threat on the horizon into early March.

At Dublin-based broker FCStone, Jaime Nolan-Miralles said that "the key point to note is that the overall condition of the European winter grains/wheat crop is favourable".

Milling wheat for May stood 0.5% lower at E194.75 a tonne in lunchtime deals in Paris, with London feed wheat for May down 0.8% at £156.25 a tonne, with the contracts also feeling pressure from a falling Chicago market.

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