Mild winter keeps EU crops in good shape, focus on spring sowing

PARIS (Reuters) – Grain crops in the European Union have avoided major damage so far this winter amid relatively mild weather, shifting market attention towards spring crops after rain prevented some autumn sowing in countries like Germany and Poland.

Analysts pointed to the usual risk of a cold snap later in winter that could hurt plants in the absence of snow cover, but generally saw no immediate threat to EU crops.

In France, the EU’s biggest grain producer, heavy rain since December has caused some concern but crop conditions were still seen as positive after very good sowing conditions.

“There are a few waterlogged fields in France but no impact yet on yield potential,” Michel Portier, head of consultancy Agritel, said. “If it hadn’t rained so much people would have been talking about a lack of moisture.”

Low rainfall last year led to drought in parts of France, notably in the southeast. However, December saw national rainfall exceed the seasonal average by 30 percent and the country has also seen a wet start to January.

In its last crop update before winter, farming agency FranceAgriMer rated 95 percent of soft wheat and 96 percent of winter barley as good or excellent by Dec. 4.

France’s farm ministry expects the soft wheat area to remain in line with last year’s high level and also estimates that rapeseed sowings rebounded sharply.

In Germany, the absence of severe frost has been welcome for crops that endured a soggy autumn in which farmers failed to complete sowing of winter cereals and rapeseed.

“It is early days yet but conditions have not been ideal,” one German analyst said. “Attention is now on what farmers will plant in the spring in place of lost winter grain sowings.”

Germany’s winter wheat area for the 2018 harvest fell by 4.7 percent on the year, while winter rapeseed sowings were down 2.6 percent, official estimates in December indicated.

“An unusually large area is still to be sown and I think we are likely to see more plantings of spring wheat, spring barley, oats and non-grains,” the analyst said.

The picture is similar in Poland, where rain also disrupted winter grain sowings and waterlogged fields were being reported, said Wojtek Sabaranski of analysts Sparks Polska.

Polish winter wheat plantings could fall about 10 percent to around 1.7 million hectares, while winter rapeseed sowings are likely to fall about 10 to 12 percent to 780,000 to 790,000 hectares, Sabaranski estimates.

“So far we’ve been experiencing a very mild winter with no winterkill reported,” he said. “Nevertheless, such weather poses some serious winterkill risk if the conditions change later as there is no snow cover.”

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