PARIS The European Union is moving closer to a record rapeseed crop after favorable weather continued in the final weeks of the growing season and initial harvesting in major producer France confirmed good yields.
Rapeseed, like other field crops in the EU, has enjoyed favorable growing conditions that allowed successful sowing, a safe passage through winter and healthy growth in spring.
Some forecasters predicted a month ago a record rapeseed harvest and analysts have since raised their outlook as conditions have remained mostly clement.
French-based ODA said it raised its EU forecast this week to 22.5 million tonnes from 21.8 million last month, further surpassing a previous EU high of 21.6 million in 2009, while EU grain lobby Coceral on June 20 projected the crop at 22.8 million tonnes, up from its March forecast of 21.1 million.
The European Commission, the EU's executive, is more cautious, estimating last week the crop at 21.2 million tonnes, although this would still be up from 20.9 million last year.
Rapeseed is the most produced oilseed crop in the EU and used to make edible oil, biodiesel fuel and animal feed.
In France, typically the EU's No. 2 rapeseed producer after Germany, harvesting is under way and early results from key western and northeastern belts suggested decent yields.
"The favorable conditions during the year and at the end of the growth cycle suggest good to very good yield potential for crops," Mathieu Godet, manager for western France at oilseed institute Cetiom, said.
"The rapeseed pods have filled well. Thousand-grain weights could be varied, given that rain was sometimes lacking, but overall the outlook is promising," he said.
GERMAN, UK CROPS LOOKING GOOD
Initial feedback from Poitou-Charentes in western France showed encouraging yields of about 3.5 tonnes a hectare in soils considered as of average quality, he added.
In the east, early results in Alsace and around Dijon were also favourable with yields of 3.5-4 tonnes a hectare, Cetiom said on its website.
France's farm ministry last month forecast a rapeseed crop of 5.2 million tonnes, a 19 percent rise from the weather-hit 2013 harvest and including a national yield of 3.43 tonnes a hectare, up from 3.04 tonnes last year.
Among private forecasters, ODA this week raised its French forecast by 150,000 tonnes to 5.35 million tonnes.
Heavy rain in France at the weekend had delayed field work but harvesting was expected to pick up again later this week.
The prospect for a record-high EU production also reflected good crop conditions in the EU's other leading rapeseed-producing countries, Germany, Britain and Poland, analysts said.
Germany looks likely to hold its traditional position as top EU rapeseed grower, although harvesting was yet to start.
"Overall I am optimistic about the crop but much will still depend on warm dry weather in the rest of July which will be critical for yields," one oilseeds analyst said.
"The plants are generally looking good throughout Germany but there is leeway for yields both upwards if we have a hot, dry July and downwards if the weather is cool and wet."
Germany will harvest 5.90 million tonnes of winter rapeseed in 2014, up 2.2 percent on the year, Germany's farm cooperatives association forecast on June 11.
"I think we will see a start to rapeseed harvesting around July 10 in the early areas with mainstream harvesting starting in the following couple of weeks," the analyst said.
In Britain, production was set to rebound from a four-year low of 2.1 million tonnes in 2013.
"Growing conditions have been very good," said Jack Watts, senior analyst with the Home-Grown Cereals Authority. "We're looking at harvest beginning in mid- to late July, depending on what the weather does over the next few weeks, a more normal harvest timing after last year's late harvest."
In 2013 the UK's rapeseed harvest was around 50 percent completed by Aug. 20, well behind the usual timing of end of July for that level of progress.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Valerie Parent in Paris, Michael Hogan in Hamburg and Sarah McFarlane in London, editing by David Evans)