UK farmers' exit from rapeseed sowings was far more dramatic than a shown in a much-watched report from the AHDB bureau, according to data from Origin Enterprises – with Romanian growers now planting more.
Origin Enterprises, the owner of the Agrii agronomy chain, estimated winter sowings of rapeseed in the UK, historically the European Union's third-ranked grower of the oilseed, at about 500,000 hectares.
This "represents a reduction of approximately 10% on last year", Origin Enterprises said.
That is a far bigger drop than indicated by data on Wednesday from the AHDB bureau, which showed area falling by some 1% - albeit only for England and Wales, which account for some 94% of UK sowings..
However, the Origin Enterprises figure is more in line with market ideas of a sharper drop in UK rapeseed sowings – and may even exceed them.
Traders at a major European commodities house said that "the trade estimates winter plantings may be down closer to 5%".
Origin Enterprises attributed the extent of the decline in UK winter rapeseed area to "largely… to agronomic and rotational crop planning decisions" by growers.
Farmers have been deterred from sowing the oilseed by heavy losses in many areas to cabbage stem flea beetle, following the introduction of EU curbs on neonicotinoid insecticides.
However, while the AHDB acknowledged a slump in rapeseed's popularity in eastern England "likely due to production pressures, including the potential risk from cabbage stem flea beetle", it added that in other regions the oilseed "still seems to remain the break crop of choice".
Higher prices - boosted by three successive years of decreasing world production, on top the decline in UK output - at the time of winter crop plantings had "perhaps" boosted area, the bureau said.
Still, on either set of data, the UK is now, according to Origin Enterprises, a smaller grower of rapeseed in area terms than Romania, where growers hiked sowings of rapeseed despite weather delays to plantings – a factor which is especially important for the oilseed, which has an early sowings window.
Romania's "total oilseed rape plantings are estimated at 600,000 hectares, compared with 380,000 hectares for the comparative period" last year, said the group, which also runs agronomy chains in eastern Europe, including Ukraine.
Rapeseed has led a rise of some 50,000 hectares to 3.30m hectares Romania's winter sowings of major crops overall, the company said.
In the UK, Origin Enterprises put total sowings of the major winter crops at 2.95m hectares, little changed year on year, with winter wheat area seen 1.4% higher at 1.85m hectares.
The AHDB, whose data were taken as of December 1, estimated English and Welsh winter wheat area - which, again, account for the vast majority of the UK total – falling 5% to 1.61m hectares.
Origin Enterprises added that establishment of Romania's winter crops had been "generally satisfactory" despite the weather delays to sowings.
In Poland - where the group reported winter sowings at 5.3m hectares, little changed year on year – there were "no significant establishment issues arising at this stage".
In Ukraine, the group supported ideas of strong winter crop prospects, estimating plantings at 7.6m hectares, a rise of 1.8m hectares year on year, and saying that crops "are generally well established and in good condition".
However, the data imply less area available for spring crops, such as corn of which Ukraine is a major exporter, with total sowings for this year seen stable year on year at 22.0m hectares.
By Mike Verdin