France: Survey shows wheat, winter barley area decline this year
The area sown with soft wheat for this year's harvest in France, the European Union's biggest grain producer, is estimated to have declined by 10% compared with 2019 to a 19-year low after heavy rain disrupted field work, a survey showed on January 17.
The area was seen at 4.47 million hectares, down from 4.97 million hectares last year, Sigma Conseil, a market analysis firm, said in a survey of French grain handling firms.
Like Britain, France experienced very wet weather during autumn that hampered sowing of wheat and barley crops before winter.
France's farm ministry in December estimated the soft wheat area for the 2020 harvest would be down nearly 5%, but traders and analysts have pointed to the prospect of a double-digit drop.
Sigma Conseil, part of French agricultural cooperative SCAEL, said its national area figure included 120,000 hectares estimated to have been sown since Christmas due to improved weather conditions.
The wheat area estimate remained tentative, as some sowing work was continuing in southwest France while grain firms also feared that some struggling wheat plants may have to be dug up and replaced with other crops, Sigma Conseil said.
It projected French soft wheat production in 2020 at 33.3 million tonnes, down from a 2019 crop of 39.5 million tonnes that was the second-largest on record.
The initial production outlook used a yield of 7.45 tonnes per hectare, representing an average of recent years excluding highs and lows, Sigma Conseil said, adding it was too early to predict the impact of sowing problems on yields.
Grain companies anticipated the difficult sowing conditions would hurt yields, although the most severe sowing losses were generally in western regions that tended to have yields below the national average, it said.
The estimates were based on a first survey of grain firms over Dec. 15-17 and a follow-up survey on Jan. 10-15.
Following the drop in wheat sowing, together with an expected decrease in winter barley and rapeseed sowing, France was expected to see an increase in spring barley area, Sigma Conseil said.
However, given the prospect of a large spring barley surplus, grain firms were encouraging farmers to choose other spring crops, with a rise in maize (corn) planting anticipated in some regions, it added.
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