Bloomberg News

Soft-Wheat Conditions in France Deteriorate After Wet Winter

February 15, 2013

Soft-wheat conditions in France, the European Union’s biggest grower of the grain, deteriorated in the past two months after a wet winter period, crop office FranceAgriMer reported.

France’s soft-wheat crop was 66 percent rated good or excellent as of Feb. 11, the crop office wrote in a report today, from 74 percent as of Dec. 3, the last report before winter dormancy. At the same time a year earlier, 82 percent of the crop got top ratings, today’s report showed.

Farmers in France planted 4.98 million hectares (12.3 million acres) of soft wheat, 3.1 percent more than last year, the Agriculture Ministry estimates. France’s two biggest wheat- growing regions, Centre and Picardie, received more than twice normal rainfall in December, followed by a relatively dry month of January, Meteo-France data show.

“There is some damage in all the regions where the rainfall was excessive, there the cereals suffered,” Pierre Pagesse, a former chairman of seed company Groupe Limagrain Holding, said by phone from Pardines in central France.

Wheat sowing in France started at the end of September before rainy weather in October interrupted field work. Winter wheat develops its primary root system during autumn before dormancy, and a longer growing period may allow for a more vigorous crop in spring.

‘Excess Humidity’

“We’re seeing excess humidity,” Celine Sicard, an analyst at Union InVivo, the largest exporter of French wheat, said by phone in Paris. “When growth restarts, the plants need oxygen, and if at that time they’re underwater, there’s no air exchange,” and plants may suffocate, she said.

Soils are saturated with water in most French wheat-growing regions, and the number of rainy days at the start of February was higher than last year in northern France, U.S. Department of Agriculture satellite data show.

“Strong” autumn rain may have caused major leeching of mineral nitrogen from soils, while in some cases excess water hurt winter cereals, meaning farmers will have to redo yield calculations, plant researcher Arvalis Institut du Vegetal reported yesterday.

The leaf-development stage known as tillering had started for 80 percent of the soft-wheat crop at the start of this week, from 76 percent a week earlier and compared with 99 percent a year ago, FranceAgriMer wrote.

Dry Weather

Wheat development in France will pick up in two to three weeks, around the start of March, and two weeks of dry weather would create good conditions for the crop, according to Sicard.

“Wheat is a resilient plant,” Sicard said. “It goes inactive, so unless there’s a major stress such as freezing, during winter it’s rather protected. It’s at the reprisal of growth that you need to pay attention.”

About 99 percent of the soft wheat crop had emerged from the soil, compared with 100 percent at the same time in 2012, the agency reported.

Soft wheat deteriorated in each of the 11 regions reported on by FranceAgriMer, led by Alsace, where grain rated good or excellent slumped to 66 percent of the crop from 86 percent.

In Centre, France’s biggest wheat-growing region, grain with top ratings fell to 42 percent from 46 percent before the winter. Picardie, the second-biggest production region, reported soft wheat rated good or excellent slipped to 84 percent as of Feb. 11 from 87 percent as of Dec. 3.

Crop conditions for barley also worsened, with 67 percent rated good or excellent, down from 74 percent before the winter and compared with 72 percent at the same time in 2012. The crop was 90 percent at the start of tillering, from 100 percent a year earlier.

Durum wheat ratings were 52 percent good or excellent, down from 64 percent in December and compared with 70 percent getting top ratings in 2011, FranceAgriMer wrote. The crop was 92 percent planted, compared with 97 percent a year ago.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris at rruitenberg@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at ccarpenter2@bloomberg.net


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