EU grain production largely withstood seasonal challenges

Peter McMeekin - Grain Brokers Australia, October 31, 2023

A barley crop close to harvest in Germany’s Rhineland region. Photo: Leeve Jong

THE European Commission updated its 2023-24 grain production numbers for its 27 member states last week with soft wheat output increased slightly compared to the September forecast, as were the rapeseed and corn production outlooks, but the barley number was trimmed on the back of some disappointing late season yields.

The total soft wheat harvest across the European Union came in at 125.5 million tonnes (Mt), up from 125.3Mt in last month’s update, off 21.75 million hectares (Mha) for an average yield of 5.77t/ha. This is down from 125.8Mt off 21.93Mha and an average yield of 5.74t/ha in the previous season but is higher than the five-year average of 124.3Mt off 21.67Mha and an average yield of 5.79t/ha.

Germany fills second place on the EU’s soft wheat production podium with 21.2Mt off 2.84Mha, compared to 22.2Mt off 2.94Mha in 2022-23 and a five-year average of 21.7Mt. Wet weather during harvest was a big issue for the German farmer this year, with lower protein and a higher-than-normal proportion of feed-quality wheat grades the result. Germany’s soft wheat yield of 7.45t/ha this season is 1.4pc lower than last year’s harvest but 1.2pc higher than the average of the previous five seasons.

Third place goes to Poland with 12.65Mt off 2.43Mha and an average yield of 5.21t/ha. Final production is 5.2pc lower than last season’s crop of 13.3Mt but 6.6pc higher than the country’s five-year average of 11.9Mt. Just missing the podium was Romania, producing a record 10.5Mt of soft wheat this year off 2.23Mha for an average yield of 4.69t/ha.

Three other EU countries, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, expect to have final soft wheat production in excess of 5Mt this year. That cohort would usually include Spain, but a devastating season-long drought slashed this season’s output to just 55pc of the country’s five-year average.

Barley at 13-year low

Total barley production for the EU-27 came in at 47.5Mt, compared to the September estimate of 48.4Mt, and the lowest since 2010. This is down 7.7pc from 51.5Mt last season and 9.2pc lower than the five-year average of 52.3Mt. The harvested area of 10.33Mha is on par with the previous season but is 4.5pc lower than the five-year average of 10.82Mha. This year’s yield was 4.6t/ha, down from 5t/ha last season and the five-year average of 4.94t/ha.

The EU’s three big barley producers are France, Germany and Spain, traditionally accounting for more than 60pc of the bloc’s annual barley output. This year’s French crop came in at 12.1Mt, off 1.8Mha and an average yield of 6.82t/ha. This compares to last year’s figures of 11.3Mt, 1.87Mha, respectively, and 6.07t/ha, and the five-year average figures of 13Mt, 1.84Mha and 7.06t/ha.

Germany was traditionally the EU’s biggest barley producer, but the pendulum has swung in favour of France since 2008, with Germany stealing back the gong on just three occasions since. This year’s German barley crop is estimated at 11Mt, fractionally lower than last year but down 4.3pc from the five-year average of 11.5Mt.

This season’s Spanish barley crop was hit particularly hard by the regional drought and has historically been highly variable. The 2023/24 crop has produced 4Mt, off 2.36Mha and an average yield of 1.71t/ha. Last season the crop was 6.6Mt with an average yield of 2.78t/ha against the average of the previous five seasons of 6.9Mt and a yield of 2.56t/ha. In the 2020/21 season, Spain produced a bin buster of 10.9Mt, which ended up being bigger than that season’s barley crops in both Germany and France.

Rapeseed on uptrend

Rapeseed is by far the biggest oilseed crop grown in the EU-27, accounting for around 60pc of total output. This year’s crop is forecast at 19.8Mt, up marginally from 19.6Mt last season but 14.6pc higher than the average since 2018-19 of 17.3Mt. This year’s harvested area of 6.2Mha was up 5.2pc from 5.89Mha in 2022-23 and 12.4pc higher than the five-year average of 5.51Mha. The average yield of 3.19t/ha is lower than last year’s 3.32t/ha but higher than the five-year average of 3.12t/ha.

France and Germany regularly alternate as the EU-27’s biggest rapeseed producer, with France getting the prize in 2023-24. Production, harvested area, and yield for France this season, last season, and the five-year average are 4.3Mt, 1.35Mha, 3.17t/ha; 4.5Mt, 1.23Mha, 3.67t/ha; and 3.8Mt, 1.15Mha, 3.29t/ha, respectively. The German numbers in the same order are 4.2Mt, 1.17Mha, 3.63t/ha; 4.3Mt, 1.09Mha, 3.95t/ha; 3.6Mt, 10.2Mha and 3.51t/ha.

Big corn crop rolls in

The main summer crop across the EU-27 is corn, with this year’s harvest still progressing in many regions. With a harvested area of 8.47Mha and an average yield of 7.07t/ha, the crop is expected to be 59.9Mt. Last year’s harvested area was higher at 8.84Mha, but the average yield was only 6.01t/ha, resulting in final output of 53.1Mt. However, the average planted area in the preceding five years was 9Mha, the average yield was 7.69t/ha, and the average output was 15pc higher than 2023/24 at 68.9Mt.

France is Europe’s king of corn, and output this year is expected to be 12Mt off 1.3Mha for an impressive average yield of 9.16t/ha. Production is up 9.6pc year-on-year from 11Mt, off 1.46Mha and an average yield of 7.53t/ha. The five-year average is 13.1Mt off 1.5Mha and 8.74t/ha. Romania and Poland are the other major corn swingers, each expected to produce 9.2Mt this year.

Winter planting ramps up

As the summer-crop harvest draws to a close across the EU, another winter-crop campaign begins for the trading bloc’s farmers. Warmer-than-normal temperatures have aided the planting program, with the area allocated to wheat and barley expected to be similar to 2023-24, but a small retraction in the rapeseed area is anticipated. However, dry conditions across many regions remain a risk to crop development. Spain, Romania and Bulgaria are the worst hit at this early stage, but two-thirds of France’s winter cropping areas also have below-normal soil moisture reserves.


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