Drought in Africa, southern Europe threatens durum crops

Large portions of North Africa are experiencing hot and dry conditions that are threatening the region’s durum crop.

“It’s something to look out for,” said MarketsFarm analyst Bruce Burnett.

It has been dry through most of North Africa’s rainy period with below average precipitation in every month from November through February.

“Unfortunately for them, the subsoil moisture is going to be pretty lacking across the region,” he said.

“This is a concern for this year’s durum crop in North Africa and southern Europe.”

Those are key markets for Canadian durum. Algeria was Canada’s top durum customer in 2019, followed by Italy and Morocco.

Canadian durum exports have been brisk in 2019-20 with 2.9 million tonnes shipped through week 31, up from two million tonnes shipped in the same period a year ago.

Drew Lerner, president of World Weather Inc., said it is too late for some regions of North Africa to recover.

“Morocco is definitely on the rocks,” he said.

Southwest Morocco is suffering the most. That is where 40 percent of the country’s durum crop and 60 percent of its barley is grown. There has been no meaningful rain in the region since November.

“It is just way too dry. Reproduction is completing and the yields have to be way down,” said Lerner.

Morocco had a terrible durum crop last year, with production falling an estimated 46 percent from the previous year.

Northwestern Algeria had a good autumn planting season but the rains shut down in December.

“If it could rain now I think they would recover some of their yield but it’s really too late for them as well,” he said.

Northeastern Algeria and northern Tunisia are in the best shape, especially near the coast. Yields will likely be lower farther inland but there will still be a crop, said Lerner.

A report produced by the Group on Earth Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative (GEOGLAM) confirms what Burnett and Lerner are saying.

“In central and southern Morocco, where dryness at the start of the season delayed planting, further deterioration of rainfall in late January and February and exceptionally high temperatures in February have caused low planted areas and low crop performance,” stated the report.

February rainfall was 50 percent below normal and mean temperatures were two to three degrees above average in Morocco.

Conditions are similar across northern Algeria. There has been “significant deterioration” of the wheat crop in northwestern, southwestern and south-central regions of the country.

Rainfall in Tunisia was up to 70 percent below average in February leading to a drop in crop conditions across the northern regions. Vegetative conditions remain above average in the south-central part of the country.

Burnett said North Africa’s durum crops can quickly rebound if they receive timely rains in April.

He noted that crops in southern Europe are also off to a poor start and should be closely monitored, although Spain was supposed to get some rain this week.

GEOGLAM reports that growing conditions in the Middle East are favorable.

“However, in Syria and Iraq, conflict and socio-economic factors continue to impact agricultural production,” it stated in its March report.

The crisis in northwestern Syria is the worst it has been since conflict erupted in 2011. That is causing record population displacement and impacting farming in the region.

“In Iran, conditions for winter wheat are favourable. However, desert locusts swarmed the country’s southwest coast in late February and control operations are underway,” stated GEOGLAM.

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