Wet delays European winter-crop planting

Peter McMeekin - Grain Brokers Australia, December 5, 2023

Wet conditions in France have hampered the tail end of winter-crop planting. Photo: Anne Tissot

ABNORMALLY wet conditions through much of western and northern Europe and parts of central Europe since the beginning of October have delayed the planting of this season’s winter crop, adversely affecting crop establishment and hindering early plant growth in many areas.

In France, the European Union’s biggest grain producer, the unfavourable conditions have pushed the sowing campaign into December, with field activity coming to a standstill for extended periods over the past few weeks due to the heavy rainfall and waterlogged fields. Some regions experienced record rainfall registrations for the mid-October to mid-November period, and localised flooding was reported, especially in the north of the country.

According to the public farm office FranceAgriMer, French farmers had sown 82 percent of the forecast soft wheat area as of November 27, up from 74pc a week earlier. This compares to 99pc on the same date in 2022, and the long-term average of 95pc. Crop rating continued to decline, with 80pc of the crop rated good to excellent compared to 83pc on November 20.

The winter barley campaign is slightly more advanced at 92pc planted, compared to 86pc the previous week. The crop rating declined from 85pc good to excellent on November 20 to 82pc last week. This time last year, the French barley crop was in the ground and had already emerged, with the crop rated 97pc good to excellent.

The delayed sowing, poor crop establishment conditions and very little sunshine due to overcast skies since the winter-crop planting campaign commenced prompted Arvalis, France’s largest applied agricultural research organisation, to warn that 2023-24 cereal yields are likely to have already been adversely affected. As the rain continues and winter quickly descends, Arvalis expects a shift to spring and summer crops, as it is getting too late to plant paddocks yet to be sown, or to reseed flooded areas.

According to the latest JRC MARS crop monitoring bulletin from the European Commission, the impact of Europe’s wet autumn is also apparent in the Benelux countries, northern parts of Germany, Denmark, western Poland and Slovenia. Like France, the adverse conditions are preventing access to paddocks for planting of winter cereals, drastically slowing the final stages of the sowing campaign, crop emergence and early crop development. JRC MARS expects the ongoing wet to decrease the winter cereal area across Europe, and expects a reduction in the final planted area compared to last year.

Conditions better beyond France

Planting conditions for winter cereals have generally been far more favourable in eastern and southern Poland, central and southern Germany, Austria, Czechia, and Croatia. In Hungary, dry soil-moisture conditions early in the autumn have given way to excessive rainfall and some planting delays. Conversely, large parts of Bulgaria and Romania, particularly in the east, are experiencing drought-like conditions, with very little rain and above-average temperatures delaying winter crop seeding.

Severe drought conditions decimated winter and spring crop production on the Iberian Peninsula this year, but above-average autumn rainfall has eliminated the soil-moisture deficit in most regions, leading to ideal conditions for planting and crop establishment. The cropping areas along the Mediterranean coastline remain stubbornly dry, but the cereal planting has been completed on time.

Planting of the 2023-24 rapeseed crop has now concluded, with much of the forecast area sown before conditions got too wet. Crop ratings are generally favourable in the major producing regions of France, Germany and Poland, although flooding of some fields has impacted crop establishment, particularly in the wetter parts of France.

Excessive rainfall in Denmark, southern Sweden and the Baltic States has caused some localised waterlogging, delaying sowing operations and compromising crop establishment. Conversely, the dry conditions in Bulgaria and much of Romania have hampered seedbed preparation and hindered sowing in many regions. The rapeseed area is expected to be lower than last year in both countries, with unplanted areas switched to spring or summer crops.

Wheat to China booked

Meanwhile, Nord Cereales, which operates the grain export terminal at France’s northern port of Dunkirk, will commence loading wheat vessels destined for China as planned this month. The company advised late last week that all vessels earmarked for December loading had been confirmed, and the terminal expected to load around 250,000t of wheat destined for China before the end of the month. Vessels are also expected to load China destined wheat at the Normandy port of Rouen and La Pallice on France’s Atlantic coast this month.

China has reportedly purchased as much as 2.5 million tonnes of French wheat for shipment in the December to March window. However, rumours surfaced around ten days ago that several of China’s December cargoes had been delayed to March, dampening expectations of an upturn in the pace of exports this month and pushing European wheat values to a two-year low.

The reports suggested several exporters had agreed to defer as many as seven December cargoes to March. While the motivation for such a request is unclear, China does have a sizeable program of high-quality new-crop milling wheat out of Australia, with execution commencing this month, plus some recent US purchases for nearby shipment.


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