Droughts set to cause late damage to EU rapeseed crop

HAMBURG (Reuters) - Droughts, frosts and other unfavorable conditions are expected to cause late damage to the European Union’s rapeseed harvest, cutting output in leading producers Germany, France and Poland, experts said on Thursday.

The market was now expecting the overall EU 2018 crop to bring in around or less than 20 million tonnes, down from 22.1 million tonnes last year, a German trader said.

“There is likely to be a larger than expected EU import requirement for rapeseed,” the trader added. “Importers could face more competition from China, which is expected to buy more rapeseed to replace U.S. soybeans because of the trade war with the U.S.”

Rapeseed is the EU’s most important oilseed for edible oil and biodiesel production.

In Germany, usually the largest EU rapeseed producer, the winter rapeseed crop is set to plunge 16.8 percent on the year to 3.55 million tonnes, farm cooperatives estimate.

“German rapeseed has been extensively damaged by drought in the north and the east,” one German analyst said. “Harvesting has now started and there are indications the seed oil content is disappointing.”

France is set for a steep drop in its crop as rapeseed suffered from adverse weather this year, including torrential rain and late frosts, plus high insect damage.

France’s farm ministry on Tuesday forecast the 2018 crop at 4.6 million tonnes, down more than 14 percent from 5.4 million last year.

“For rapeseed, heterogeneity remains the word, with yields on the same plot showing a ratio of one to two,” consultancy Agritel said.

Rapeseed has also suffered from dryness in Poland, said Wojtek Sabaranski of analysts Sparks Polska.

“Poland’s total rapeseed crop may not be higher than 2.0 to 2.1 million tonnes, down 27 percent from 2017,” Sabaranski said. Rapeseed harvesting has started but, ironically, was stopped by rain this week, he said.

Britain’s rapeseed harvest is underway and should gather pace in the next couple of weeks.

Rapeseed is likely to be more resilient than other crops to a prolonged spell of dry weather.

“A lot of rape crops look well. I suspect they may be less badly hit, especially on the heavier land,” said Jonathan Blake, principal crop research scientist with consultancy ADAS. “But on the lighter land they may be struggling a little.”

Any drop in yields may be partially offset by a larger planted area this year.

One survey in July estimated rapeseed area in England and Scotland had risen nine percent to 608,000 hectares.

Trade estimates put the UK crop only marginally down on the year at 2.15 million tonnes against 2.17 million tonnes in 2017.

Reporting by Michael Hogan, Gus Trompiz, Valerie Parent and Nigel Hunt; Editing by Andrew Heavens