Rain delays wheat harvest; damage worries grow

Posted on July 28, 2011

HAMBURG -- Repeated rain has delayed wheat harvesting in top European Union producers France and Germany, and dry weather is urgently needed to prevent last-minute damage, traders and analysts said on Tuesday.

“We are coming to a real nail-biting finish to the season, with wheat ready on the fields in Germany and France but with rain this week and last week stopping work,” one trader said. “Unless weather dries next week, damage will be on the cards.”

Observers stressed there was not yet concrete evidence of major late damage, although plants were already weakened by a spring drought. West Europe is forecast to have dryer weather next week, which could still allow the crop to be gathered normally, and the British harvest could also start. In France, the European Union’s largest wheat producer, harvesting was almost completely halted over the past week after repeated rain made fields too wet to cut.

But the delay does not seem to have further damaged crop quality.

“Almost everything is halted for the moment,” said Franck Wiacek, of French institute Arvalis. “There has been some harvesting this weekend but really isolated.”

Forecasts look better for the end of this week and next week, so the harvest should resume by the end of this week, he added.

Mr. Wiacek said that despite concerns in the wheat market about French crop quality, the rain appeared to have had little impact.

“Wheat plants are darkening. It is normal but it has no impact on the grains’ quality,” he said. “Now we need some good weather.” Prolonged rain would cause serious quality worries. “We have not reached that stage yet,” he added.

French analyst Strategie Grains estimates France’s soft wheat crop will be up 2% on the year at 130.2 million tons.

In Germany, the EU’s no. 2 producer, farmers have been ready to start wheat harvesting for a week, but repeated rain has kept harvesters off the fields. South, central and east German wheat fields are generally ripe, and parts of the north are not yet ready.

As in France, worry about quality loss is growing, especially as German wheat suffered especially badly from the springtime drought.

“It is still concern about damage rather than actual damage being reported, and hope remains that an improvement in the weather will allow wheat to be brought in quickly,” one German trader said. Repeated showers are forecast for much of Germany up to Friday.

“The outlook is looking better for next week, and if the weather dries up we could come away with a black eye and no major new crop damage,” another trader said.

Germany’s 2011 wheat harvest will fall 4.0% on the year to 22.82 million tons largely of spring drought damage, farm cooperatives estimate.

In Britain, the no. 3 producer, the wheat harvest is not yet under way.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if towards the end of this week we see the first wheat crop cut, but the bulk of it will be around the second week of August onwards,” said analyst Susan Twining of British crop consultants ADAS.

The UK harvest is expected to be down on last year’s following spring drought in many key growing areas in the south and east of England and cloudy weather during grain fill.

“We have not had high sunshine during grain fill, which is one of the key drivers of the yields. It is very difficult to factor in the variability we are likely to see in the south and the east with the more normal yields in other parts of the country,” Ms. Twining said.

“I would say production of around about 14 million tons seems feasible,” she added.

Last year’s UK wheat crop was 14.9 million tons, the UK farm ministry says. -- Reuters