EU cereal exports lower after a poor harvest

Grain Brokers Australia, August 25, 2020

Dry conditions have impacted production in most parts of Europe. Photo: Axereal

THE winter-crop harvest is winding down across much of Europe, and it appears that wheat production has been the worst hit by the extremely dry growing season weather and severe spring frosts across central and southern parts of the continent.

In its August update, the United States Department of Agriculture pegged the wheat crop in the European Union, including Britain (EU-28), at 139.5 million tonnes (Mt). This is a year-on-year fall of 10 per cent or 15.5Mt.

On the whole, the EU-28 barley crop appears to have fared much better in the testing seasonal conditions, with the USDA calling production 62.5Mt, only slightly less than last season’s 63Mt crop. The rapeseed crops have also held up exceptionally well with production estimated at 16.8Mt, on par with last season’s EU-28 output.

French cuts

France is the biggest grain producer and exporter in the EU. Earlier this month, the country’s farm ministry cut its soft wheat production estimate to 29.7Mt, down from 31.3Mt a month earlier. This represents
a 25pc decrease in output compared to the 2019 harvest. It is also 16pc below the five-year average and is the smallest harvested area since 1994.

The farm ministry also slashed the French barley crop estimate to 11.3Mt, down 1Mt, or more than 8pc, from its July number. This is 18pc lower than last season’s output. The rapeseed production estimate of 3.3Mt was reduced by less than 100,000t in the farm ministry’s August update. This is down 5pc year on year, but is a mammoth 36pc below the five-year average.

With the smaller wheat crop, French exports are forecast to fall dramatically to around 13Mt. This is more than 43pc lower than 2019-20 marketing year exports of 23Mt. Despite the smaller exportable surplus, recent sales of new-crop wheat and barley to China have been robust as Beijing continues its fervent grain import drive.

German malting up, feed down

According to the German Farmers’ Association (GFA), the country’s grain harvest will be 42.4Mt, down from 44.3Mt a year earlier and around 5pc below the five-year average. It has forecast wheat production will end up at around 21.1Mt this harvest, a fall of 1.7Mt, or 7.5pc, compared to the 2019-20 season.

The winter barley crop in Germany, mostly used in stockfeed rations, is expected to come in 9pc lower than last year at 8.9Mt, but the spring barley crop, predominantly used in malt manufacture for the beer market, will likely increase 7.4pc to 2Mt. In comparison to last harvest, this puts total barley output down around 4pct.

In contrast, the GFA has called 2020-21 rapeseed production 3.3Mt, 18pc higher than last season’s crop of 2.8Mt. Germany is usually the biggest rapeseed producer in the EU-28 and the primary consumer for edible oil and biodiesel production.

Rosy in Poland

The third-largest wheat producer in the EU-28 is Poland and farmers there are much happier than their French and German counterparts. Thanks to more favourable spring weather, the Polish wheat crop is expected to finish up at around 11.7Mt, more than 6pc higher than the previous harvest, and the fifth largest on record.

The barley harvest in Poland is expected to be slightly higher than in 2019 at 3.6Mt.

Reduced Romanian, Bulgarian exports

The worst drought in more than a century across parts of Romania has decimated winter crop harvest in 2020. Typically, the second-largest wheat exporter in the European Union via its Black Sea port of Constanta, this year’s exportable surplus will be down significantly on recent years.

These days, the majority of the wheat that is exported via Constanta is not domestically produced. Thirty years after the end of dictatorship in Romania, the 64 kilometre-long Danube-Black Sea Canal that links the Danube River with the port of Constanta, has turned into an economic gateway propelling Romania to the top of EU’s wheat exporters.

Also known as the Canal of Death due to the number of deaths and disappearances during its construction, the waterway now brings grain exports from Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia to the world market via the Black Sea.

Romania’s agriculture ministry called wheat production as low as 5.4Mt in July but has since revised its estimate higher to around 6Mt. This is a year-on-year reduction of 23pc and would still be the smallest crop  since 2012, exacerbating the shrinking export supplies across the EU-28 in the 2020-21 marketing year.

The Romanian government briefly banned export shipments in April as the coronavirus pandemic sparked concerns about domestic supply. The restrictions were lifted after a week, but the ministry did caution that they may be revived if the drought severely curbed new crop production.

Wheat consumption in Romania is estimated at 3.1Mt, made up of 2.2Mt milling quality, 500,000t retained for seed and 400,000t for the livestock sector. Based on the revised harvest estimate, the agriculture minister is still calling exports from domestic production 3Mt in 2020-21, but down almost 50pc on the previous year.

Similarly, southern neighbour Bulgaria has seen this year’s wheat production fall significantly on the back of dry weather at critical crop-development stages. The wheat crop is forecast at 1.8Mt, or 29pc lower than
last year’s 4.5Mt. With domestic consumption pegged at around 1.8Mt, exports are expected to fall about 40pc to 2.9Mt.

In this month’s update, the USDA reduced its estimate for EU-28 wheat exports to 25.5Mt, a year-on-year fall of 33pc. Barley exports didn’t escape the knife, with the USDA cutting them by 27pc to 5.7Mt.

The EU, France in particular, has traditionally been a prominent supplier into North Africa and the Middle East, and the big crops in Russia and Ukraine put them in the box seat to pick up the export slack into those regions this season.





Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


Get Grain Central's news headlines emailed to you -