EU's Black Sea neighbours eye good milling wheat crops

Tue Jun 17, 2014 8:12am EDT

* Romania/Bulgaria expect steady production from 2013

* Average grain moisture seen at up to 13 pct in Romania

* Grain fit for Egypt tenders

* 80 pct of Bulgarian grain may be of milling quality

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST, June 17 (Reuters) - Black Sea neighbours Romania and Bulgaria are gearing up to reap good wheat crops this year which could keep exports strong in 2014/15 although heavy rain has taken its toll on yields in the lower Danube river plains.

Romania, which harvested a crop of about 7.4 million tonnes last year, an eight-year record and its second biggest in four decades, has emerged as a major cereal exporter to Egypt - the world's biggest wheat importer.

High volumes plus decent crop quality in 2013/14, notably in eastern Europe, has allowed the European Union to benefit from brisk global demand and set a wheat export record.

"We've complained of drought until this year, we now pray for a halt in rains. Powerful storms have dashed to ground wheat plants on hundreds of hectares," said Constantin Bazon, Vice-President of LAPAR farmers association.

Production losses aside, "most of the crop will be of milling quality," Bazon said: "There are many areas with water puddles and excess moisture which favoured development of diseases sporadically."

Bazon expects an average nationwide moisture content of 12.5-13 percent for the new harvest: "We're likely to be fit for Egypt's further trade demands."

Egypt's state-owned General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC) has bought 180,000 tonnes of Romanian and Russian wheat for shipment July 15-31, it said last week.

This is the first tender in which GASC raised its tolerance for moisture content in wheat to 13.5 percent after a change introduced in January ruled out any wheat with a moisture content of more than 13 percent.

January's more stringent specification had mostly ruled out French wheat as the average moisture content in the 2013 French wheat harvest was 13.5 percent.

Romanian harvesting is expected to begin next week and the farm ministry has made no predictions of the cereal crop but producers surveyed by farming portal recolta.eu expect output to be steady from 2013 with some falls likely in the south.

It said in the southern Romanian grain belt close to the Danube border with Bulgaria, in the Ialomita county, farmers are looking at output of 95 percent of last year.

The nearby county of Calarasi suffered unprecedented attacks by rodents that destroyed many plants, farmers said.

Wheat harvesting in neighbouring Bulgaria is also expected to at least match last year's 4.6 million tonnes, Agriculture Minister Dimitar Grekov said last week.

"The sowings developed well in the autumn and despite rains and hailstorms causing damage we have reasons to expect a good harvest," Grekov told Reuters in a first official estimate.

"It should be at least as good as last year's," he said.

Germany's leading grain trader Toepfer International said in May that Romania would harvest 8.26 million tonnes this year and Bulgaria's crop will rise to 5.17 million.

Angel Vukadinov, deputy chair of Bulgarian Grain Producers Association said he did not expect the recent rains to have a serious impact on wheat quality.

The next three weeks will be crucial for the wheat's quality, Vukadinov said and if no heavy rains occur, he expects 70-80 percent of the harvest to be of top quality.

He said in some areas, especially in northwestern Bulgaria, there was more rainfall but did not expect this to affect either the quantity and quality of the crop. (Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov in Sofia; writing by Radu Marinas, editing by David Evans)

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