EU harvest adds to the global wheat dilemma

Grain Brokers Australia, August 31, 2021

Harvesters in France and other European nations are heading back to their barns now that the crop is all but off for the year. Photo: Claire Doyet

THE winter-crop harvest is winding down across much of Europe, despite the challenges presented by weather extremes that have hampered field activities in a number of countries and played havoc with crop quality. Harvest rains and quality issues have been observed across most of France, the western parts of Germany and large parts of Poland. The wet weather did extend further west into Belarus and south as far as northern Italy, but impact on crop quality was not as drastic. In the north of the continent, a hotter than usual July in Sweden, the Baltic states and Finland affected grain-filling of spring and winter cereal crops as soil moisture ran out early.

According to last week’s European Commission crop update, soft wheat production is forecast at 127.2 million tonnes (Mt), down from 127.7Mt in July. This was on the back of a slight reduction in yield from an average of 6.05 tonnes per hectare to 5.98t/ha. However, this yield is still 7.9 per cent above the 2020 harvest number of 5.54t/ha, and 5.1pc above the five-year average of 5.69t/ha.  Despite the production downgrade, the Commission maintained its European Union wheat export outlook at 30.Mt for the 2021-22 marketing year which commenced on July 1.

On the oilseed front, the Commission reduced 2021-22 canola import projections by 5pc from 6Mt to 5.7Mt, even though its EU production forecast remained unchanged at 16.9Mt.  Conversely, the production estimate for winter and spring barley collectively was increased slightly from
52.6Mt to 52.9Mt. The forecast yield jumped from an average of 4.96t/ha to 4.99t/ha, 4.4pc above the five-year average of 4.78t/ha but only 2pc above last year’s yield of 4.89t/ha.

French quality affected

French farmers have almost completed this year’s wheat harvest, but it is running two weeks behind the pace of the 2020 edition, and 11 days behind the five-year average. Last Friday, farm office FranceAgriMer pegged the soft wheat harvest at 96pc complete as of August 23, up from 91pc a week earlier after a two-week hot spell allowed fieldwork to pick up following the rain disruptions earlier in the program.  Agriculture consultant Agritel has dropped its French wheat production estimate below 35Mt following a survey conducted among French farmers. Agritel is now calling the crop 34.93Mt, down from 37.9Mt following its July survey.

The harvest rains have drastically affected grain quality, with test weight taking a hit. As a result, the average yield expectations have dropped from 7.6t/ha to 7.07t/ha.  Test weight measures grain density and is a critical determinant of quality suitable for the milling industry. Most
millers require a minimum of 76 kilograms per hectolitre (kg/hl), while stockfeed consumers tend to request a minimum of 72kg/hl, or even as low as 70kg/hl. This suggests that French exporters may struggle to meet the quality of their long-term buyers in North Africa, with stockfeed buyers in the Middle East and Asia likely alternatives.

The winter barley harvest in France has long concluded, but the spring version is lagging the long-term average on account of the wet weather. FranceAgriMer called the spring barley harvest 97pc complete last week compared to 100pc a year earlier. Reports suggest that the spring barley crop withstood the wet harvest conditions and quality remains satisfactory, and there will be ample supply to meet domestic malt demand.

Germany fares better

According to the German agriculture ministry update last week, total wheat production in Germany is forecast to fall 3.36pc year on year to 21.37Mt following the wet harvest. Weather extremes punctuated the German season, with a cold spring leading into a hot, dry start to the summer. And when the harvest started, uninvited summer storms delayed the harvest and reduced crop quality. Nonetheless, the quality issue is not as bad as in France, with German wheat said to be replacing French supplies into overseas markets, including major customer Algeria.

The poor harvest weather has also impacted canola yields, with production now forecast to increase by only 0.2pc over 2020 to 3.52Mt, 11.3pc below the five-year average. This compares to the agriculture ministry’s upbeat May production forecast of 3.8Mt. On the other hand, barley production is bucking the trend, with output expected to be 2.2pc higher than last year at 9Mt.

Harvest wet in Poland

Wheat production in Poland has also taken a hit due to heavy rains over the harvest period. According to local consultant and analyst Sparks Polska, the country’s wheat production forecast is now 11.9Mt, down from its July estimate of 12.1Mt and just below last year’s mark of 12Mt.
In Belarus, the government has imposed a six-month grain export ban following a poor, weather interrupted harvest. The ban will be valid for six months and applies to the export of wheat and meslin, rye, barley, oats, corn, buckwheat, millet, triticale, other cereals and canola outside the Republic of Belarus. The country has completed its 2021 harvest, delivering 6.2Mt of grain, a 14pc decrease on the 7.2Mt reaped in 2020.

Bumper for Black Sea

The European Union Black Sea states of Romania and Bulgaria have bagged bumper wheat crops this year, a huge turnaround from their poor showing in 2020. Romania has harvested a record 11.4Mt, more than 78pc higher than the 6.4Mt reaped in 2020. A highly favourable growing season delivered a record yield of 5.34t/ha, more than 11pc higher than the previous record of 4.8t/ha. The Romanian barley crop was also a bumper at 1.9Mt, 73pc higher year on year.  The wheat harvest in Bulgaria was 98.7pc complete as of early last week, and the local farmers had
bagged 7.1MMT, 51 per cent higher than a year earlier. The average wheat yields have averaged more than 6.t/ha, a welcome improvement on the drought-affected 4t/ha produced off a much lower harvested area in 2020. Bulgaria’s barley crop has also recovered from last year’s debacle, up 25pc to 700,000t this year.

Quality, quantity conundrum

It has certainly been an eventful harvest for the European farmer this year. While wheat production may be higher than in 2020, quality issues will present challenges for both domestic consumers and export supplies.  However, this is not unique to Europe. The world has both a wheat production and protein wheat deficit to solve, particularly amongst the major exporting nations. Some serious rationing will be required to balance the books, but the global consumer has only just read the headlines. Higher prices are here to stay for some time yet, it seems, and the burden on Australian wheat production and exports over the next 12 months will be extremely high.


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  1. Heather Parkin-South, September 10, 2021

    This is a clear indication that people need to change their diets by not relying so heavily on grains; in other words save the grains for livestock and eat the livestock, they’re more nutritionally dense anyway.

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