European wheat is seen at risk after record-high temperatures in November and December accelerated growth and delayed the onset of winter dormancy, leaving plants vulnerable to any cold snap in the spring.
French and Romanian crops are “very advanced” and a late spring frost could freeze developing grain ears, Michel Portier, head of Paris-based farm adviser Agritel, said by phone.
Maximum temperatures across Europe’s wheat belt from Spain to Ukraine have been between 2 and 4 degrees Celsius (3.6-7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal in the 30 days through Dec. 21, data from World Ag Weather show. The European Union accounts for about 20 percent of world wheat production.
“These are exceptional conditions for the time of year,” said Olivier Deudon, an agro-meteorologist at French crop researcher Arvalis. Winter grains “are pushing a lot faster and that creates a risk of cold damage,” Deudon said.
Average temperatures in France were 3.4 degrees higher than normal in the first three weeks of December, with record highs in the northwest and the Alps, Meteo-France reported.
December weather has been more typical of conditions in October or April, according to Deudon. Mild temperatures are set to continue at least until the end of the year, and at this rate the month will be the warmest December on record, the meteorologist said.
Most wheat in Europe is planted in autumn, with crops sprouting and developing their initial leaves and root system, before entering winter dormancy and resuming growth in spring.
Wheat in Brittany in western France planted at the end of October was already showing symptoms typical for the end of winter, including nutrient deficits and first signs of yellow rust, a fungal disease, according to a Dec. 17 report by Arvalis.
In the fields of Jean-Philippe Mignot, who farms 128 hectares (316 acres) in the Aube region, east of Paris, the lack of cold has allowed aphids to flourish. Tests confirm the pests are carrying a virus that can damage his wheat, while the advanced state of the crop raises frost risks, Mignot said.
While weather in France is expected to remain mild in the short term, forecasts for Ukraine predict an inversion with a “brutal” drop in temperatures in the middle of next week, according to Portier.
“The frost will arrive at one point or the other,” he said. “What is typically damaging are temperature differences. If cold arrives progressively, the plant adapts.”
That means a sudden drop in Ukraine is the biggest concern right now, also because crops lack an insulating snow cover, according to the Agritel executive.