Cows to Feast on French Wheat as Rains Threaten Crop Quality

June 17, 2016 07:51 AM

European cows may soon be feasting on more French wheat as downpours threaten to reduce the quality of the grain used to make bread.

The deluge that recently hit crops in the European Union’s biggest producer has the potential to reduce the grain quality, adding to global supplies of wheat used to feed animals, said Peter McMeekin, an origination manager at the Australian unit of Dutch grains trader Nidera BV. Parts of France got the most rainfall since 1959 last month, according to crops office FranceAgriMer.

Concerns about next season’s harvest pushed up Paris milling wheat-futures prices in the previous three weeks, the longest streak since November, before the contracts fell back this week. Crop conditions are deteriorating in France, with 75 percent of soft wheat rated good or very good in the week to June 13, down from 79 percent a week earlier, FranceAgriMer data show. This time last year, 85 percent of crops had the top ratings.

"Rain continues to wreak havoc on maturing French wheat fields following a deluge of falls throughout May," McMeekin said in a report Thursday. "This threatens to reduce the quality of the crop leading into the July harvest, potentially reducing stocks of quality wheat in Europe."

Twice Normal

Wheat-growing areas in France got twice the normal rainfall in the past 30 days, Speedwell Weather said Monday. Rain continued in early June and some areas got 4 to 6 inches more than normal in the past 45 days, WeatherBell said the following day. Orleans, where France’s biggest grain cooperative Axereal is based, got 7.1 inches in 30 days, or three months’ worth of rain.

Near the city of Chartres, in the Centre-Val de Loire region and in the middle of the French wheat belt, the weight of the rain has caused plants to fall over in some fields. This phenomenon, known as lodging, means the grain can no longer be used for human consumption. Other fields in the area looked in much better shape Wednesday, with most plants still standing.

Wheat lodging is only present in very specific areas of Axereal growing regions, Jean-Francois Loiseau, chairman of Axereal, said in an interview in Chartres before a drive to the company’s research facility in Vieuvicq, passing through many of the region’s wheat fields. It’s not yet possible to determine how the rains have affected the crop, said Loiseau, whose cooperative collects about 5.5 million metric tons of grain a year from its members.

Crop Risks

While independent consultants Agritel have cut their French crop forecast for the season starting in July by 1.5 million metric tons, German commodities trader BayWa AG said the concerns are only for quality for now. The Munich-based company sees risks to crops both in France and in southern Germany.

"It seems fair to assume some quality issues for parts of the French and German crops, but it is too early to expect massive problems," BayWa said in e-mailed response to Bloomberg questions Wednesday. "If the wet weather continues for another two weeks, quality issues would become more severe."

Wheat crops in France will still be large as farmers planted the biggest area in eight years, Alexandre Boy, an analyst at Agritel, said in an interview in Paris last week. Traders will be watching for rainfall for the rest of the month as wet weather just before the harvest can make it harder to use the wheat for bread, he said.

Wet weather is making crops prone to disease including septoria, a fungus that produces small oval- to diamond-shaped spots on leaves, according to FranceAgriMer. BayWa sees increased need for farmers to apply protection against fusarium, a fungus that can produce mycotoxins in grains, potentially affecting both human and animal health if it enters the food chain.

"Farmers are reacting to these conditions," BayWa said. "Currently, forecasts show another week of rather wet conditions, but the following weeks look better."

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