Quality concerns flare up as EU wheat harvest gathers pace 7/31/13

Quality concerns flare up as EU wheat harvest gathers pace

31-Jul-2013 07:39


* Low protein levels along France’s Atlantic coast

* Extreme heat may reduce quality of German harvest

* Italian crop hit by torrential storms, heatwave

* Output to rise in Spain, drop in Britain


By Nigel Hunt

LONDON, July 31 (Reuters) – Worries about the quality of

this year’s western European wheat crop are emerging, as harvest

activity moves to a key growing belt in top producer France and

gets underway in Germany.

Grain experts are painting a mixed picture of projections

with French production expected to at least match last year and

larger harvests anticipated in Germany and Spain.

However, Britain’s crop is set to be the weakest in more

than a decade, while Italian output is also seen declining.

Local reports from earlier harvested zones along France’s

Atlantic coast pointed to some protein levels below 11 percent,

which is often a minimum level for milling wheat exports.

“This year it’s the protein content that appears to be the

issue,” Pierre-Antoine Allard of consultancy Agritel said. “The

question is whether the northern third of France is going to get

good protein.”

Violent storms in the past week had also raised concerns

about crop damage and worsening quality for wheat yet to be cut,

although analysts said rain may also have benefited some plants

that matured very quickly during an early July hot spell.

Agritel projects a 2013 French harvest of 35.6 million

tonnes, unchanged from last season, while analysts Strategie

Grains sees a slightly higher 36.65 million. The farm ministry

and farm office FranceAgriMer each forecast 35.9 million tonnes.

In the EU’s second largest producer Germany, sunshine and

high temperatures may have pushed some wheat to ripeness faster

than expected, creating concerns about quality. But overall

volumes are expected to be larger than last year.

There has been some early wheat cutting but a more

widespread start to harvesting is expected over the weekend, one

analyst said.

“Basically the overall picture remains good but there is

regional concern about crop quality following very high

temperatures over the weekend and in the last week. It is still

not clear what the impact of the very hot weather was, but I

think it should not be over-dramatised.”

Germany sweltered under sunshine and temperatures of over 30

degrees Celsius in many regions over the weekend. These have now

dropped to just over 20 degrees but are forecast to rise again

to around 30 from Thursday to Friday.

Germany will harvest 24.24 million tonnes of wheat in 2013,

up from the 22.33 million tonnes harvested in 2012, grain trader

Toepfer International forecast earlier this month.


In Britain, the harvest is not expected to get underway

until next week with production seen down sharply. The planting

of crops last autumn was wrecked by wet weather.

The harvest area is expected to drop 19 percent this year to

1.61 million hectares, the Home-Grown Cereals Authority said

last week, issuing results of a planting survey. [ID:nL6N0FS1JD]

“We’re looking at about 11.7 (million tonnes) based on the

(lower) area and yields slightly down on an average year,”

analyst Leo von Kameke of ODA UK said, adding the quality of the

crop had yet to be determined.

Italy, a major grain importer in Europe, has been plagued by

a heatwave and torrential storms, which are likely to affect

this year’s production.

“It’s difficult to quantify the weather’s impact on harvests

at this point, but there will definitely be losses in production

compared to forecasts given by the ministry,” said Rolando

Manfredini, a crop analyst at Coldiretti.

“The north of the country was most hit, although the centre

has also been impacted, but at a much lower scale.”

The agriculture ministry has forecast output of soft wheat

this year at 2.999 million tonnes, down from 3.41 million tonnes

the previous year, while durum wheat, used in making pasta, was

estimated at 3.71 million tonnes, down from 4.18 million.

Spanish farmers’ association COAG estimates this year’s

wheat crop at 8 million tonnes, with 7 million tonnes of soft

wheat and 1 million of durum.

Last year’s wheat crop was 5.1 million, according to the

International Grains Council.

“In general, this year’s harvest is looking good and the

qualities are good, especially when compared with last year,”

COAG crop specialist Laura Piedra said.

“We’ve had a weekend of hail a few weeks ago, which has

affected some cultivations in the north of the country, but

farmers said only small parts of their crops had been hit, so we

don’t expect the damage to be big.”

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