France expects bigger winter barley, rapeseed crops despite drought

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PARIS (Reuters) – France’s farm ministry forecast higher production of winter barley and rapeseed this year as an increased area was expected to offset lower yields as some crops suffer from drought.

Harvest prospects in France, the European Union’s biggest grain producing state, are being monitored closely as grain markets wrestle with supply tensions due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

In its first production estimates for 2022, the ministry projected the French winter barley crop at 8.25 million tonnes, up 0.4% compared with last year.

For winter rapeseed, the crop was pegged at 3.87 million tonnes, up 17.8% year-on-year.

“While crop conditions remain good overall, drought has intensified across the country and, with respect to the initial yield estimates for winter barley and rapeseed, is affecting the yield potential for the upcoming harvest,” the ministry said in a crop report.

Analysts in France, have pointed to crop damage in zones worst affected by drought, although rain and cooler temperatures since late May have eased concerns. 

The winter barley crop forecast was based on an expected yield of 6.50 tonnes per hectare, down from 6.85 last year, and an estimated crop area of 1.27 million hectares, up from 1.20 million in 2021, the ministry said.

The projected winter rapeseed production was based on an expected yield of 3.26 tonnes per hectare, down from 3.35 last year, and an estimated crop area of 1.19 million hectares, up from 979,000 in 2021.

Winter rapeseed accounts for almost all rapeseed production in France. Barley production, however, includes a significant portion of spring crop, with this year’s spring barley area estimated at 555,000 hectares.

In area revisions, the ministry lowered its estimate for soft wheat to 4.76 million hectares from 4.80 million projected last month and now 4.5% below last year’s level.

For sunflower seed, the 2022 area was pegged at 797,000 hectares, up from 758,000 hectares forecast last month and now the highest level this century, the ministry said.

Farmers have switched to sunflower seed as a cheaper option amid spiralling costs for fertiliser and energy, while cutting back on maize planting. 

The estimated grain maize area, excluding crop grown for seeds, was cut slightly to 1.36 million hectares from 1.37 million a month ago, now 7.0% down on 2021.

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