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French sugar beet crop biggest in at least 25 years, wheat upgraded

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France is set for its biggest sugar beet harvest in at least 25 years, officials said, underlining the boost to European sugar output from the ditching of quotas, in a report which lifted the wheat harvest estimate too.

France's farm ministry, in its first forecast for the domestic sugar beet harvest in 2017-18, pegged it at 40.48m tonnes – a rise of nearly 6m tonnes year on year.

A result at that level would also be, by a distance, the largest crop on data going back to 1993-94, and represents the latest in a series of upbeat reports on beet output from countries in the European Union, where a sector shake-up is seeing sugar production curbs lapse next month.

Germany's sugar industry association, Wirtschaftliche Vereinigung Zucker, has forecast a 31.48m-tonne domestic sugar beet harvest, up some 27% year on year, with output of sugar itself see growing by 23% to 4.98m tonnes.

And in the UK, sugar output will soar to "in excess of 1.4m tonnes" in 2017-18, said Associated British Foods, whose British Sugar business is responsible for all UK beet sugar output.

'Lower prices'

That would represent a jump from 900,000 tonnes a year before, when weak sugar prices and high stocks prompted a cut to contracted beet-growing area – which has soared by one-third for 2017-18, ABF said.

"The crop is developing well, following recent favourable rainfall and temperatures," the group added.

But against this backdrop of rising supplies ABF - which also produces in sugar in Spain, besides in China and southern Africa - cautioned that its sugar prices in the EU would be "below those achieved" in 2016-17.

"However, the profit impact of this is expected, to some extent, to be mitigated by the higher production volumes and the benefit of euro strength against sterling on euro denominated sales."

Ministry vs Tereos

The rise in France's beet production hopes reflected in the main a surge in sowings, "an increase of 16% over one year, and 20% compared to the 2012-16 average", the country's agriculture ministry said.

The average yield was seen rising 0.3% at 85.8 tonnes per hectare, despite recent dryness, with officials saying that beet crop prospects did "not appear to be impacted by the persistent rainfall deficit in August".

Nonetheless, the beet production dynamics are significantly less upbeat than those that might be implied from forecasts on Friday from sugar giant Tereos, which expects this year to process more than 20m tonnes of French beet – equivalent to at least 50% of the country's harvest.

"Tereos is predicting that this campaign will produce a potentially very high yield, some 8% higher than average over the last five years," the group said.

For France overall, the average French sugar beet yield for 2012-16, including the bumper 2014 result, is 87.5 tonnes per hectare, as calculated by Agrimoney.com from farm ministry data, making this year in fact a little below par.

Wheat, rapeseed upgrades

The ministry also raised by 1.09m tonnes to 68.15m tonnes its estimate of France's cereals harvest, representing in the main an upgrade of 1.01m tonnes to 37.79m tonnes in the estimate for soft wheat output.

That would make it France's third-biggest harvest on record, after those of 2015 and 1998, the ministry said.

The rapeseed crop, helped by "excellent yields, was upgraded by 254,000 tonnes to 5.48m tonnes, falling only just short of the 2009 record of 5.6m tonnes.

While late frost, spring drought and June heatwaves had "raised concerns" over winter crops "with the exception of a few departments and very local situations, the yields of cereals and rapeseed recovered to exceed historical averages.

"In most areas, oilseed rape has been resilient to rainfall, high temperatures and frost events."

By Mike Verdin

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