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France cuts beet crop hopes, thanks to virus 'crisis'


France hiked its estimate for sugar beet losses to an aphid-spread virus, which has raised prompted controversial concessions to an insecticide ban, as it cut estimates too for other crops, following a dry summer.


The European Union’s top sugar producer slashed by a further 1.69m tonnes to 30.50m tonnes its forecast for its beet harvest this year – shrinking it to a 12-year low.


The “sharp” downgrade, which took the estimate more than 7.50m tonnes below last year’s result, came “in a context of strong growth” in the spread of so-called beet yellows virus, the French farm ministry said.


It downgraded its estimate for this year’s domestic beet yield by a further 3.65 tonnes per hectare to 72.53 tonnes per hectare, taking it nearly 15% below last year’s result.


France vs Germany

It also took the estimate below the 81.6 tonnes-per-hectare result expected by the European Commission’s Mars agrimeteorology unit, which puts the trailing five-year result at 87.0 tonnes per hectare.


Furthermore, the downgrade raises the threat of France losing to Germany its status as the EU’s top sugar producer, with the official yield estimate now in line with that expected by the French beet growers’ association, CGB, which expects the crop to produce 4.1m tonnes of the sweetener.


Last year’s output came in at 4.96m tonnes, according to European Commission data, with Germany on 4.3m tonnes.


Germany’s WVZ sugar industry association has raised its estimate for the country’s beet yield this year to 73.5 tonnes per hectare, just above the five-year average, and reported sugar content good, at 18.1%.


‘Unprecedented crisis’

The French downgrade underlines what country’s agriculture ministry in August termed an “unprecedented crisis” for beet growers, thanks to the virus, which it warned can cause yield losses of 30-50%.


The situation “creates the risk of a massive abandonment of beet in 2021 by farmers in favour of other crops,” the ministry said, adding that the “crisis weakens the entire sugar sector” in France, where it employs 25,000 farmers and includes 21 processing plants.


The French government has – to the anger of environmentalists - unveiled plans to reverse a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides which the country was itself paramount in introducing.


The government touted two years ago that it was “leading the way in terms of protecting pollinators and has been the driving force” behind an EU-wide adoption of curbs on neonicotinoid insecticides, blamed for accelerating a decline in bee populations.


‘Water deficit’

The ministry also on Tuesday cut its forecast for France’s maize harvest this year by 600,000 tonnes to 13.78m tonnes, again on a lower yield estimate, cut by 4.1 tonnes per hectare to 8.32 tonnes per hectare.


This downgrade took the corn yield estimate too below the 8.40 tonnes per hectare expected by Mars, which warned that France had in the two months to early September shown “the second highest water deficit since 1979”.


“This is thus the third year in a row with dry conditions reducing expectations for summer crop yields.”


For soft wheat, Mars trimmed its harvest forecast by 300,000 tonnes to 29.18m tonnes, taking to nearly 10.4m tonnes the slump in production expected year on year, thanks to the impact of spring dryness on dryness, and the set back to sowings from a wet autumn.

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