Drought seen driving EU farmers to sow more wheat, less rapeseed

PARIS (Reuters) - Parched soils have hampered late-summer rapeseed sowing in Europe, raising the prospect that farmers will shift toward attractively priced wheat for next year’s harvest, analysts said.

FILE PHOTO: A farmer works in a field with his tractor near Cossonay, Switzerland April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

Barley, which like wheat has seen a price rally amid tightening global supplies, could gain extra area too as farmers turn to cereals and cut back on both rapeseed and sugar beet, with the latter affected by a sugar market downturn.

Rainfall in northern Europe this month should also give an advantage to cereal sowing after a torrid summer that hit harvesting and then rapeseed drilling.

In its first sowing outlook for the 2019/20 harvest, the International Grains Council on Thursday said it expects the global wheat area to rise for the first time in four seasons, encouraged by higher prices.

The shift toward wheat in the European Union could be reinforced by loss of rapeseed area and a return to normal winter cereal sowing in northern Europe after torrential rain disrupted last year’s campaign, according to analysts.

“All these factors go in favor of an increase in the area of winter wheat and barley,” said Laurine Simon, analyst with Strategie Grains, said, adding however that more moisture was needed.

In France, drought has worsened in some regions during a dry, warm September, and a sharp drop in rapeseed area was widely expected.

Oilseed producers group Terres Univia estimates sowings will decline by 150,000-250,000 hectares compared with just over 1.5 million harvested this year.

Analysts say more rapeseed area could be lost as some crops fail to survive. Persistent dryness could also hinder initial wheat and barley sowing but it was seen as too early for concern.

In Germany, winter wheat sowings are expected to increase to around 3.1-3.2 million hectares from some 2.9 million harvested in summer 2018, one grains analyst said, adding that the winter barley area could be stable.

“Dry weather during the rapeseed planting period meant rapeseed sowings in Germany were probably cut by at least 200,000 hectares to under 1 million hectares,” the analyst said.

“Germany had more rain in the past couple of weeks so sowing is progressing reasonably, dryness is causing local difficulties but the national picture is satisfactory.”

In Poland, an increase in wheat plantings is also expected, encouraged by an early maize harvest as well as higher prices, said Wojtek Sabaranski of analysts Sparks Polska.

“Sowing conditions have somewhat improved due to the recent rainfalls, but soil moisture is still not sufficient in many regions, especially in the west and north-west,” he added.

In Britain, improved prices and favorable weather could boost winter wheat plantings, but problems with weed control have raised uncertainty about farmers’ crop choices.

“Farmers are holding off from rushing into planting so that they can get the best possible weed control,” said Jack Watts, chief combinable crops advisor to the National Farmers Union.

Rapeseed could lose area given difficulties with cabbage stem flea beetles, he added.

Reporting by Valerie Parent and Gus Trompiz in Paris, Michael Hogan in Hamburg and Nigel Hunt in London. Editing by Jane Merriman