Poor weather has thwarted plans by European Union farmers to raise oilseed sowings and cash in on relatively firm prices of crops such as rapeseed, for which rising biodiesel use has turned the bloc into an importer.
Strategie Grains said that, while farmers had started out with plans to raise oilseed sowings for the 2012 harvest, area would in fact fall 3% year-on-year to 11.5m hectares thanks to difficulties planting winter rapeseed.
"This decline is essentially due to poor conditions at planting time in many countries, in particular Germany, Denmark, Romania and Bulgaria," the influential analysis group said.
The setbacks lower the chances of the EU improving its rapeseed harvest, after two seasons of decline.
The region has not for seven years been self-sufficient in the oilseed, since growing use in biodiesel raised the bloc’s credentials as the world’s top rapeseed consumer.
This shortfall has supported prices of the oilseed, which has fallen less than 14% this year on the Paris futures market, compared with a 26% drop in wheat.
Economics vs agronomics
UFOP, the German oilseeds industry group, on Tuesday highlighted the handicap the country’s farmers had faced, for a second season, from rains which delayed wheat harvest, so keeping land designated for rapeseed tied up, besides directly impeding autumn sowings.
The group estimated at 0.9% to 1.325m hectares the rise in rapeseed sowings in Germany, which this year lost to France the title of top EU producer of the oilseed, thanks largely to direct and indirect effects of the poor 2010 sowing conditions.
Northern Germany, including the major rapeseed regions of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, had seen significant cuts in sowings this year, the UFOP said, while adding that crop which had been sown appeared in good condition.
However, growers in the UK, having achieved record yields and production in the newly-finished harvest, have enjoyed better luck in sowings too, with plantings for the 2012 harvest estimated at a record 758,000 hectares by The Andersons Centre, a rise of 7%.
While the increased saturation of rapeseed in UK crop cycles has raised some concerns over encouraging pests, "it appears that as economics change, so to farmers’ reactions to rotation", Andersons Centre researcher Imogen Goatman said.
Strategie Grains, based in Paris, said that cut in oilseed area had been reflected in its estimate for EU grain sowings, which it raised by 100,000 hectares to a three-year high of 56.4m hectares.
The increase of 800,000 hectares year on year will be led by durum, the variety of wheat used to make pasta, for which sowings are seen rising by 300,000 hectares to 2.9m hectares thanks to improved margins.
Soft wheat area was pegged at 23.2m hectares, a rise of 100,000 hectares, with barley sowings estimated at 12.1m hectares, up 200,000 hectares.
The group on Wednesday estimated the EU soft wheat harvest next year at 135.8m tonnes, compared with 129.5m hectares, with the increase driven by a recovery in yield to 5.8 tonnes per hectare, from the 5.6 tonnes per hectare recorded this year when spring dryness hurt many northern European crops.