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France hikes barley, wheat forecasts - sees larger corn harvest too


France hiked its estimates for barley and wheat harvests, and in its first full forecasts for corn predicted an increase in production, even as it cautioned of “major drought” in major growing areas.


France’s farm ministry raised by 1.22m tonnes, to 38.175m tonnes, its forecast for the domestic soft wheat crop, the European Union’s biggest, this year.


The revision - which follows a series of upbeat estimates from other commentators on French wheat estimates - reflected an upgrade of 0.24 tonnes per hectare, to 7.61 tonnes per hectare, in the yield figure.


For both spring and winter barley yield estimates were raised too, lifting the harvest estimates respectively by 407,000 tonnes to 4.27m tonnes, and by 436,000 tonnes to 9.14m tonnes respectively.


For spring barley, the sowings estimate was also raised, by 18,000 hectares to 624,000 hectares, with the ministry noting that the crop “particularly benefited from problems with rapeseed”, for which last year’s dry early autumn prevented some sowings.


Some rapeseed which was planted was ploughed in, also creating extra space for spring crops.


Corn forecasts

In its long-awaited first estimate for France’s corn crop, the ministry pegged the harvest at 13.13m tonnes – a rise of 614,000 tonnes year on year, reflecting an increase in sowings.


The yield estimate, at 8.92 tonnes per hectare, was a little below the five-year average - which Agrimoney calculates at a little under 9.2 tonnes per hectare - although many commentators have been expecting an even weaker yield figure, given heatwaves which have taken French temperatures to record highs.


Hot weather, besides drying out soils, can dent maize yields if it strikes during the heat-sensitive pollination period.


Strategie Grains 10 days ago told Agrimoney that the “French maize crop outlook appears very gloomy for this season”, noting that factors such as pollination issues and water stress “are already observed in fields”.


CRM AgriCommodities cautioned that its “production forecast could be lowered below 12m tonnes, adding that this year’s crop “could be the smallest French maize harvest since 1990”.


‘Taken with caution’

France’s farm ministry acknowledged that a “downward revision is possible” to its corn estimates, given the weather conditions.


“Early estimates made two months before the beginning of the harvest are to be taken with caution because of heatwaves and drought that have particularly affected this crop, resulting in a lower leaf mass, and with grain-filling to date uncertain,” the ministry said.


“Most regions [of France] are affected by a major drought.


“The two heat waves of June and July both accentuated this drought and hampered the development of summer crops, particularly maize.”


‘Problems related to frost and drought’

Crops such as winter wheat and even spring barley, an earlier-maturing crop than corn, are seen as having largely escaped damage from the heat, which may have even been helpful in its timing, many analysts believe.


However, for rapeseed, no boost was seen, with the ministry keeping its yield forecast at a little over 3.0 tonnes per hectare.


With the rapeseed area estimate downgraded further, by 62,000 hectares to 1.14m hectares, the harvest figure too was reduced, by 178,000 tonnes to 3.46m tonnes – a 31% slump year on year.


“The problems related to frost and drought, as well as pest attacks explain this decline in area,” with farmers “switching fields to other crops”.

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