PARIS (Reuters) - Warm, dry weather in the past month has helped European farmers catch up on maize planting but crops could start to suffer unless regular rain returns, analysts said.
Planting of maize (corn) is winding down in the European Union, including in top producer France where 86 percent of the expected area had been sown by May 14, farming agency FranceAgriMer said on Friday.
A wet, cold start to spring had delayed planting and while field work has accelerated sharply this month it is still behind last year’s pace when 97 percent of the area had been sown by the same date.
“The only question mark in France is the delay in planting, which concerns the west of the country,” Laurine Simon, maize market analyst at Strategie Grains, said. “Groundwater reserves have been replenished by the winter rain, which is a positive factor for summer irrigation.”
The crop area, however, is expected to stay at around the low level of last year, as unattractive prices deter farmers.
France’s farm ministry this week estimated the grain maize area would be stable compared with 2017 but 12 percent below the average of the past five years.
A relatively low crop area in France and also in Italy could curb overall EU maize production this year, Simon said. Strategie Grains projects a 3 percent rise in output to 60.9 million tonnes, supported by an expected recovery in Spain after drought last year.
Recent hot, dry weather in central and eastern Europe could be a drag on harvest prospects in countries like Hungary and Romania.
“There has been rain but some of it came with storms so didn’t necessarily fall widely,” Simon said.
In Germany, dry weather is also a concern.
“Unfavorable sowing weather for winter wheat and some spring grains mean some extra maize area has been sown,” one German analyst said. “But plants are suffering from dryness in some areas and yields do not look promising.”
German grain maize sowings are set to increase by 7.4 percent this year from last year to 463,000 hectares, Germany’s national statistics office estimated this week.
But in a separate forecast this week, the association of German farm cooperatives estimated production would fall this year by 2.6 percent to 4.3 million tonnes.
In Poland, farmers similarly shifted more land towards maize after weather problems for earlier-sown crops.
Farmers increased maize plantings to about 700,000 hectares against 600,000 hectares harvested in 2017, which assuming average yields could push production up 12 percent to 4.7 million tonnes, Wojtek Sabaranski of analysts Sparks Polska estimated.
“Weather conditions at planting time were generally favourable, even though in some regions it was too dry,” Sabaranski said.
Reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris and Michael Hogan in Hamburg; Editing by Susan Fenton