September 12, 2019 / 3:00 PM / 6 days ago

Sharp contrasts between maize harvests in the EU after heatwave

PARIS (Reuters) - Maize harvests, which are kicking off in some parts of the European Union, will contrast sharply from one side of the bloc to the other this year after a heatwave hurt crops in the West while sparing major producing countries in the Southeast.

Kernels of corn are seen on a cob in a field in Prettisheim near Strasbourg, France, September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

The 28-member bloc has been hit by scorching weather over the summer with France, the EU’s second-largest maize grower, seeing record-high temperatures that hurt maize plants in key development stages.

The European Commission cut its estimate of the bloc’s maize production to 68.5 million tonnes last week, from 69.5 million estimated last month and now below the 69.0 million tonnes harvested in 2018.

In France, the farm ministry also cut its forecast for this year’s crop, excluding production for seeds, to 12.8 million tonnes from 13.1 million last month, 2% above last year’s volume but 9% below the average of the past five years.

But traders were more pessimistic, with most expecting a harvest at around 12.5 million tonnes and some putting it as low as 12 million after irrigation problems this summer and additional shift from grain use to silage.

“We cannot exclude some bad surprises after a difficult fertilization period,” a broker said.

A similar scenario was expected in Germany, with the grain maize set to rise 13.1% from the drought-reduced crop last year to 3.7 million tonnes, but still down 10.7% on the average since 2013, the farm ministry said.

“It looks like we will achieve a better crop than last summer but not very good from the long-term perspective,” one German grains analyst said.

Poland should harvest at least 4.1-4.2 million tonnes against the exceptionally good crop of 4.6 million tonnes in 2018, said Wojtek Sabaranski of analysts Sparks Polska.

“The condition of maize varies by region due to uneven rain received at key vegetation stages,” Sabaranski said. “Nevertheless, this year’s maize crop should be quite decent.”

In Romania, the EU’s largest maize grower in terms of planted acreage, expects to reap about 18 million tonnes of grain maize from 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres), stable on the year amid mixed weather conditions, farmers said.

“Weather was varying widely from excessive dryness to torrential rains across the territory over the past months. On average yields do not look bad,” Gheorghe Albu, President of Romania’s grain farmers association LAPAR told Reuters.

Albu said farmers’ field data showed yields of about 5-6 tonnes per hectare in the Black sea region of Dobrogea, hit by drought, and yields of about 9-10 tonnes in Baragan and in the Danube river’s low plains in the south.

In Hungary, the bloc’s third-largest producer, production is likely to remain stable on year at about 8 million tonnes, from 7.98 million tonnes last year, but the picture is very varied, as has been the whole season, farmers’ group GOSZ said.

Some regions have been hit by drought, while in three counties the crop started ripening very quickly during the last hot week of August, GOSZ Chairman Tamas Petohazi said.

Reporting by Valerie Parent in Paris, Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Gergely Szakacs in Budapest and Radu Marinas in Bucharest, writing by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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