Analysts predict strong wheat crop for France

Despite a heat wave and dryness, quality is generally good aside from low protein levels in some areas

PARIS, France (Reuters) — France is heading for a record wheat crop this year after strong yields during harvest showed little effect from a hot, dry start to summer, analysts said.

Agritel grain marketers estimated soft wheat production would reach 38.9 million tonnes while another consultancy, ODA Group, put the crop at 39.4 million tonnes, both seeing the harvest surpass an official record of 38.2 million set in 1998.

The estimates reflect a growing consensus in the market that French wheat has emerged un-scathed from parched, sweltering conditions in the run-up to harvesting, bringing good yields along with the biggest crop area in almost 80 years.

France is the European Union’s largest wheat producer and exporter and acts as a benchmark for western European prices.

“The record production level this year reflects first of all the harvested area,” Agritel said in a release.

“The average yield is well above the five-year average…. The moisture deficit and heat wave temperatures in late June and early July did not therefore lead to a sharp fall in French yields,” it said.

The limited weather impact reflected the fact that wheat plants were in good shape and near maturity during the most severe weather, while heavy rain in early May helped crops endure subsequent dryness, it said.

Agritel’s crop estimate, based on a survey of grain market operators between Aug. 2 and Aug. 5, factored in an average yield of 3.03 tonnes per acre, up from 3.02 last year.

ODA, which said it had increased its harvest outlook by one million tonnes compared with 10 days ago, put the average yield at 3.09 tonnes per acre.

Both firms referred to an official area estimate of 12.75 million hectares, the highest level since 1936.

Crop quality, critical for determining wheat’s suitability for milling markets, notably overseas, was generally good, Agritel said, without giving figures.

Hagberg falling numbers, a key technical measure of flour-making quality, were extremely high, in a marked recovery from last year’s rain-affected levels, and moisture levels were also lower following this year’s dry, hot conditions, it said.

Protein content was more mixed, with Agritel citing some varied results in northern belts while ODA pointed to low protein near the west coast.

Positive results from the wheat harvest, which is now in its latter stages in the north of France, have shifted market concerns toward later-planted corn, which is expected to have suffered substantial yield losses.

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