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Mounting French sowings delays feed talk of area loss

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Expectations of a drop in French winter wheat area for the 2020 harvest hardened after officials revealed wet weather expanding the lag in plantings, and with the end of the ideal sowing window approaching.

 

Plantings of soft winter wheat for the 2020 harvest in the European Union’s top producer of the grain stood at 74% as of Monday, the country’s official FranceAgriMer bureau said.

 

That represented a gain of just 3 points week on week, and left plantings well behind the average figure of 97% for the time of year.

 

It equates to a delay of roughly three weeks behind the typical pace.

 

With the plantings window beginning to close around the end of this month, according to Ben Bodart at CRM AgriCommodities, the extent of the lag has spurred ideas that a marked quantity of ground may not be seeded with winter grains at all.

 

‘Not looking good’

Paris-based analysis group Agritel said that while weather had proved drier this week, “nevertheless… area could be down compared to last year”, when winter wheat plantings totalled 4.97m tonnes, according to official data.

 

In France, market talk among co-operatives of a drop of 10-15% year on year, said Mr Bodart, whose family farms near Toulouse.

 

“That is what they are saying at the moment,” he said, noting that much of what had been seeded was “not looking good”, suffering from tests such as a “slug issue” encouraged by the wetness.

 

FranceAgriMer rated the soft winter wheat crop in the ground at 78% “good” or “excellent”, down 6 points week on week, and the lowest reading for the time of year since 2012, also a wet year.

 

Nonetheless, the lack of sowings was currently more concerning than the crop rating which, this early in the growing season, “does not correlate with the final yield”.

 

Corn harvest

The sowings delay reflects in part the direct impact on fieldwork of persistent rains which have also slowed plantings in the UK, where total winter crop sowings for the 2020 harvest will end up down 25% year on year, agronomy group Origin Enterprises said earlier this week.

 

However, in France the slow pace of the corn harvest has also told, leaving land tied up with standing crop. (The UK grows less maize, and for silage rather than grain, meaning the crop is cut earlier.)

 

Some 88% of French maize had been harvested as of Monday, up 4 points week on week but behind the average of 98% for the time of year.

 

With harvest especially slow in southern French areas such as Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrenees, this has translated into a particular delay in winter grain sowings in these regions.

 

In Aquitaine, just 28% of winter wheat was seeded as of Monday – unchanged week on week, and down from 97% last year.

 

Durum factor

In fact, while these areas were “not large” in terms of soft wheat, “for durum they are important”, Mr Bodart said, with France’s production of the pasta wheat biased towards the south.

 

French durum wheat sowings as of Monday stood at just 25%, up 4 points week on week, but by far the slowest on data going back to 2011, and behind a five-year average of 79% for the time of year, on Agrimoney calculations.

 

While the price implications of the slow soft wheat sowings were being countered in markets by record winter plantings in Russia, for durum wheat, “something of a niche”, the planting delays could have a broader impact.

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