Quality concerns flare up as EU wheat harvest gathers pace
* 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
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
“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.”