World in brief

France asks EU to help farmers

PARIS, France (Reuters) — France wants new “market regulation measures” to help farmers hurt by low milk and pork prices and has submitted proposals ahead of a meeting of European Union agriculture ministers later this month, prime minister Manuel Valls said last week.

The government called on the European Commission to do more to help its struggling livestock sector, seeking to defuse protests in which farmers have blocked highways and supermarkets.

Prices for milk and pork have fallen below the cost of production for many European Union farmers as a Russian embargo on western food has caused oversupply, and France says 35,000 of its livestock farms are at risk of going bankrupt.

The French government has offered hundreds of millions of euros in aid to livestock farmers since last summer.

But with no sign of an upturn in market conditions, farmers have renewed street protests since the start of the year.

An EC spokesperson cited a US$556 million aid package granted last year and urged EU countries to make full use of it.

In the dairy sector, French proposals include an increase in the floor price at which producers can sell into public storage, an export credit facility, and aid for farmers who cut output when prices fall, a memorandum submitted by France to the Commission showed.

France also called for a concerted effort to get Russia to lift a sanitary embargo on EU pork, which pre-dated a broad ban on western food imposed in August 2014, the document showed.

Exchange alters trading hours

CHICAGO, Ill. (Reuters) — CME Group, the world’s largest futures market operator, plans to shorten trading hours for its livestock futures and options contracts effective Feb. 29, the exchange said in a statement.

The exchange said the proposed changes, pending CFTC approval, for live cattle, feeder cattle and lean hog futures and options are designed to “further enhance its livestock markets” based on customer requests.

Trading hours will be reduced to align with the period of greatest liquidity in the livestock markets, according to the exchange. It said that during 2015, roughly 87 percent of daily livestock futures and options trades occurred during the proposed hours.

CME Globex futures and options hours will be revised to 8:30 a.m. to 1:05 p.m. CST Monday to Friday. Current trading hours are on Monday at 9:05 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday 8 a.m. to 1:55 p.m.

Open outcry options hours will be adjusted to 8:30 a.m. to 1:02 p.m. CST Monday to Friday. Currently, they are traded on Monday from 9:05 a.m. to 1:02 p.m. and Tuesday through Friday at 8 a.m. to 1:02 p.m.

The daily settlement period and procedures for CME livestock contracts will remain unchanged.

Tyson raises profit forecast

(Reuters) — Tyson Foods Inc., the biggest U.S. meat processor, raised its full-year profit forecast, helped by a sharp drop in feed and livestock costs, sending its shares to a record high following the Feb. 5 announcement.

Shares of the company, which also reported a better-than-expected rise in quarterly profit, were up 12 percent at US$58.15 in morning trading.

Feed costs have fallen in the United States as a global glut of corn and soybeans has kept grain prices depressed for three straight years.

However, Tyson’s revenue fell 15.4 percent to $9.15 billion as higher domestic availability of cattle and hogs drove down average sales prices in the first quarter.

Retail U.S. beef prices declined seven months in a row till December as healthy pastures, cheaper corn and record high cattle prices a year ago encouraged ranchers to bolster their herds.

Tyson’s beef business, its largest by sales, reported an operating profit of $71 million, compared with a loss of $6 million in the year-earlier period, due to lower livestock costs.

Operating margins in its chicken business also rose, helped by a $60 million drop in feed costs.

France winter wheat area at 80-year high

PARIS, France (Reuters) — France’s farm ministry last week left almost unchanged its estimate of the area sown with winter soft wheat for the 2016 harvest, estimating the biggest planted area in 80 years.

Grain belts had also seen good conditions for sowing and crop development, the ministry said, raising the prospect of another big harvest this summer after a record 2015 volume that has left traders wrestling with high stocks.

The winter wheat area was seen at 12.8 million acres, compared with 12.9 million in a first official estimate in December and 1.1 percent above last year’s area, the ministry said in a crop report.

The expected soft wheat area was 4.5 percent above the average of the past five years and would be the highest level since 1936 when French farmers had also sown 12.8 million acres.

The ministry raised its estimate of the winter barley area to 3.36 million acres, up from 3.26 million in its first estimate. This put the area 4.1 percent above the 2015 level and 18.5 percent above the five-year average.

In oilseeds, the farm ministry pegged the winter rapeseed area at 3.68 million acres, up from 1.46 million estimated in December. This was now 0.8 percent higher than in 2015 but 1.3 percent below the five-year mean.

For durum wheat, the ministry cut marginally the expected 2016 area to 867,000 hectares from 874,700 seen in December. This was 10.7 percent above the 2015 area and in line with the five-year average as durum sowings continued to recover from losses in recent years.

Rain aids Australian wheat growers

SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) — Recent rains have improved the outlook for wheat farmers in Australia, the world’s fourth largest wheat exporter, putting them on track for a bumper crop, especially if a wet weather La Nina pattern returns as some forecasts suggest.

But as Australia’s wheat season is shaping up for near ideal conditions, it is set to contribute to a continued depression of global wheat prices, which linger near five-year lows due to huge stockpiles.

Much of Australia’s east coast, which has seen three years of near record dry weather, recorded 25 to100 percent more rain than average during January, data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) shows.

Western Australia, the country’s largest grain producing state that accounts for more than a third of all production, saw as much as 300 percent of typical rainfalls during the first month of 2016, according to the BOM.

More rain is expected, according the BOM, which estimates a 65 percent chance of wetter than average weather between February and April, when wheat planting starts.

Australia’s chief commodity forecaster is expected to issue its first estimate for 2016-17 production in March.

Global wheat production during the current 2015-16 season is expected to hit record levels and with sluggish demand growth, huge stockpiles remain in storage .

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