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Devil in detail of EU rapeseed sowings accord

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OK, so Strategie Grains and the International Grains Council look to be singing from the same hymn sheet on European Union rapeseed sowings for the 2018 harvest.


Strategie Grains revised up by 70,000 hectares to 6.71m hectares its forecast for plantings.


That reduced to 30,000 hectares the forecast drop in sowings from last year - and took the estimate bang in line with that from the IGC, which said last week that EU rapeseed plantings “for the 2018-19 crop are projected to stay close to the previous season’s level of 6.7m hectares”.


UK debate


However, the headline accord disguises at least one wrinkle – the figure for the UK.


Sure, both commentators agree broadly that sowings in parts of central Europe, notably Germany and Poland, dropped thanks to wet conditions during the planting window, while that in any other areas rose.


Strategie Grains, for instance, flagged area “decreases in Germany, Poland and northern EU countries, which have dealt with unfavourable sowing conditions this year”.


But an estimate too of “significant increases in France, the UK, the central and south-eastern EU countries” is a bit more upbeat over the UK.


The group in fact sees seedings up 30,000 hectares, at 580,000 hectares.


The IGC said that “in the UK, prospects for a recovery of sowings appear limited after the sustained falls of recent years, with growers cautious about boosting area due to potential production failures, in part stemming from difficulties in controlling pests”.


Yield vs area


To spell that out, UK rapeseed area has tumbled by more than one-quarter from a high of 756,000 hectares in 2012, in a decline blamed largely on EU curbs on neonicotinoid insecticides, which has weakened efforts to control cabbage stem flea beetle.


Sowings for this year were, at 563,000 hectares, the lowest since 2005, with some ideas that the country’s relatively warm (in winter) and damp climate means UK farmers need more help from pesticides than continental countries, where cold is more severe.


However, growers who took the risk for the latest harvest were rewarded with record yields.


And prices have been OK.


CRM AgriCommodities noted that UK values “started the week on a strong note, up £3 a tonne delivered to Erith at £323 a tonne”, which would be above average for the time of year, although of course it is prices in the sowings window which are more important in influencing area.


Market puissance


So where will seedings actually end up?


Word on the farm talks of smaller seedings, with growers said to be leery still over growing a crop so vulnerable to pests, and with prices not viewed high enough to overcome such reservations.


(Strategie Grains says that, even while sowings may rise this year it in the “mean term expects a progressive decrease of rapeseed acreage in the UK”.)


If UK seedings are lower this year, and with area down in Germany and Poland too, that would mean a drop in sowings in three of the EU’s top four producing countries.


Farmers in the other one, top ranked grower France, could have an unusually strong grip over EU market dynamics.

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