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Fertilizer curbs pose 'massive threat' to German wheat exports

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Pending fertilizer legislation could threaten Germany's role as a key exporter of hard wheat, by cutting the protein content in grain, industry players warned.

Verein der Getreidehändler der Hamburger Börse (VgD) the German grain trade body, warned of "drastic consequences" for Germany's high protein wheat industry if draft legislation on curtailing use of nitrogen fertilizers is not altered.

The curbs represent "a massive threat to Germany's role as an important and reliable supplier of quality wheat in the EU and in third countries".

German agriculture and energy group Bayerische Warenvermittlung (BayWa) told Agrimoney.com that "for domestic crop farmers the regulation may cause challenges to the nutrient supply of their crop.

"Especially for the production of quality milling wheat - a top product for German agri exports," BayWa told Agrimoney.com.

Danish precedent

Germany is preparing legislation to enact the 1991 European Union nitrates directive, after the European Commission, concerned over levels of fertilizers leaching into the country's groundwater, threatened Berlin with legal action over its failure to comply.

The legislation, which is in draft form, would restrict the times that nitrate fertilizers could be applied, as well the volumes of nitrate and phosphate fertilizers applied per hectare.

However, reduced nutrient applications are seen as likely to cut the protein level in Germany's wheat crop, besides reducing yield potential.

ADM Germany said in a report that "the expectation of lower yields and protein contents has not been simply plucked out of thin air but is shown by the recent example of Denmark," which introduced curbs on nitrate use some 20 years ago.

"This resulted in a continual fall in the protein content of wheat from 12.0% in 1992 to only 8.4% in 2014," ADM Germany, formerly Toepfer, said.

'Would threaten Germany's role'

The ADM Germany report added that "even if the basic principle of protecting natural resources such as soil and groundwater is undoubtedly to be welcomed, the current form of the draft regulation must be viewed with a highly critical eye.

"It would threaten the role of Germany being one of the most important suppliers of milling wheat in the world."

Germany is the European Union's second-ranked wheat exporter, shipping 6.5m tonnes outside the bloc last season, compared with 12.2m tonnes from first-ranked France.

However, while French wheat is mainly lower protein, typically at 11.5% concentration, sold largely to North African buyers such as Algeria and Egypt, German exports are typically of 12.5% protein grain, bought by the likes of Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

Within the EU, major buyers include the UK, largely a grower of feed wheat, which imported 353,612 tonnes of German wheat in the first nine months of 2014-15, after purchases of nearly 600,000 tonnes last season.

For more on this story, click here.

By Will Clarke

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