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World wheat area to hit highest since 1998 - IGC

The area of wheat harvested in 2013 harvest will rise to a 15-year high, despite the setbacks to crops in the US and parts of Europe, potentially paving the way for a rebound in production.

The International Grains Council, in its first detailed estimate for the area of wheat harvested next year pegged it at 223.2m hectares, a rise of 2.2% year on year.

The increase, to the highest since 1998, reflects "elevated domestic and international prices" of the grain, whose value remains near record highs in Europe and Russia, encouraging farmers to raise seedings.

Furthermore, in the northern hemisphere, which has nearly completed winter sowings, "the crop condition is regarded as generally good, and the plants are reasonably well established ahead of the winter", the council said.

'Dry conditions slowed germination'

The exceptions are the US, "where dry conditions slowed germination", and parts of the European Union, namely the UK and France, "where conditions were overly wet", the intergovernmental group said.

Selected estimates for 2013 wheat harvested area, (change on year)

India: 29.6m hectares, (unchanged)

European Union: 25.8m hectares, (3.2%)

Russia: 25.5m hectares, (+8.5%)

US: 20.3m hectares, (+2.5%)

Ukraine: 6.5m hectares, (+16.1%)

Australia: 13.5m hectares, (+1.5%)

World total: 223.2m hectares, (+2.2%)

Source: IGC

Indeed, UK growers which have normally wrapped up winter crop sowings by now, were estimated this week to have 30% of plantings yet to do.

Nonetheless, European Union wheat area overall, at harvest, will increase some 800,000 hectares to 25.8m hectares.

And, in the US, even allowing for an abandonment rate of 14% of sowings of 23.6m hectares (58.3m acres), harvested area will still rise back over 50m acres for the first time since 2008.

'Improved soil moisture'

The forecasts hold out the potential for a recovery in wheat production from the 654m tonnes at which the IGC on Thursday estimated the world's 2012-13 harvest, a 1m-tonne downgrade from last month's figure.

The downgrade, to a level implying a 41m-tonne drop in world output year on year, reflected "slight" revisions to forecasts for crops in the EU and in Australia, where the ongoing harvest was pegged at 21.5m tonnes.

Boding well for the 2013 crop are rains which "improved soil moisture in central and eastern growing areas of Turkey, while drier conditions in western regions promoted winter crop growth.

"Iran's crops also benefitted from rainfall, including previously-dry eastern regions."

A particularly strong rebound in sowings was forecast for Argentina, where harvested area was seen rebounding 25% to 4.5m hectares, after plantings were depressed in the current season by a switch to barley blamed on government export restrictions undermining wheat price potential.

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