EU wheat grows thirsty after record March warmth
PARIS — Wheat in the north and east of Europe is at risk of yield losses as record spring warmth and sunshine is prompting precocious crop development in soils short on moisture.
In Germany, the warmest March days ever recorded prompted hasty opening of beer gardens and boosted plant growth, while the month was the fourth-driest going back to 1881, the local weather office said. France's meteorological service reported record sunshine and "major drying out" of soils in the northeast of the European Union's biggest wheat producer.
"There's just been too much warmth and recently not enough rain," said Gail Martell, president of Whitefish Bay, Wis.-based Martell Crop Projections. "Whenever weather is too far from normal, and that applies here for temperature and deficient rainfall, there's always a price to pay."
Europe's abnormal weather adds to wheat drought concerns in the United States and Ukraine. Milling wheat for November delivery traded in Paris rose 8.3 percent in the past two months, while Chicago wheat rose 15 percent.
Rain in the past 90 days was less than normal for most of Europe, World Ag Weather data show. Maximum temperatures exceeded normal by 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) or more in an arch from Germany to Turkey, accelerating spring growth after winter.
"Eastern Europe is starting to come out of winter dormancy, and it's at that point the plants need water," said Sebastien Techer, a consultant at Paris-based farm adviser Agritel. "It's going to stress the plants."
Topsoils in Romania, the EU's largest Black Sea region wheat grower, will be low on moisture in most agricultural regions through April 14, the National Meteorological Administration said Tuesday.
Parts of France, Germany and most of Poland may receive as much as 0.75 inch (1.9 centimeters) of rain through April 13, still less than normal for the period, Martell forecasts show.
France harvested 38.6 million metric tons of wheat last year, leading EU growers, followed by Germany with 25 million tons, Eurostat data show. Polish output was 9.47 million tons.
German wheat had 36 percent of usual rainfall in the past 60 days and was abnormally warm on 57 days, data from World Ag Weather show. The crop stem-elongation growing phase on average began 14 days ahead of normal, matching 2007 for the earliest start in 22 years, Deutscher Wetterdienst data show.
The EU's soft-wheat crop may drop 0.3 percent to 135.9 million tons, grain-trade lobby Coceral forecast last week. Yields are predicted to fall in Germany and France, as well as in Bulgaria and Hungary.
Europe, including Ukraine and Russia, grew 220.8 million tons of wheat last year, or 31 percent of world production, International Grains Council estimates show.
France's cereal plains last week were "rather good looking," though wet weather after wheat planting last year may have caused shallow rooting, Jean-Francois Loiseau, the president of grain cooperative Axereal, said in an interview.
"If May and June are very dry we could have a problem," Loiseau said. Wheat development is about two weeks ahead of schedule, according to Loiseau, who farms 140 hectares in the Centre region.
Vegetation in eastern and central France, Germany, central Poland and northern Lithuania was showing signs of stress as of April 1, according to satellite data from the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
"When you see the rainfall and the corresponding satellite data, you get the feeling there's a problem there," Martell said. "Germany has been persistently dry, particularly the southern parts. I'd be more worried about Germany, where it's been drier for longer, than about France."
In France, "due to the winter we had, the roots remained near the surface," said Techer. "The soils have large moisture reserves but the first centimeters have now become quite dry and that's where the roots are, so that's worrisome."
Northeast France and central Germany had less than 25 percent of usual rainfall in March, data from Martell show.
"South of the Seine River, if there's no rain in two to three weeks, it'll start becoming a little worrisome in terms of potential yield loss," said Paul Gaffet, a wheat analyst at Bourges, France-based farm adviser Offre & Demande Agricole.
German farmers are increasingly reluctant to sell wheat due to concerns about the crop in the field, local researcher Agrarmarkt Informations GmbH wrote in a report yesterday. The rain shortfall is particularly noticeable in eastern Germany and parts of the country's west, it said.
Crop emergence is faltering due to dryness, prompting growers to wait and see how plants develop before committing more of the 2014 harvest, according to AMI.