PARIS (July 12 2003) : Extreme weather conditions - humidity in theautumn, frost and then dry weather in the spring - are likely to lead to aslump in oilseed yields this year which could cancel out a rise in area,analysts said on Friday.
In France, where farmers harvested 80 to 90 percent of the rapeseed crop,Fabien Lagarde, head of technical oilseeds centre Cetiom, said firstresults showed a drop in average rapeseed yield to 2.9 tonnes per hectare(tph) from 3.2 tph in 2002.
That would bring the French crop in at three million tonnes, down 10percent from 3.32 million last year, he said.
"What brought yields tumbling down is the drought in June which madeplants dry and prevented grains from thickening," Lagarde said. "And thatwas on top of the frost waves in April."
"But compared to what we feared this spring, it's more than we dared hopefor," he added, stressing that many traders and analysts had forecastedmuch lower yields only a few months ago.
The French farm ministry on Friday pegged the average rapeseed yield at2.6 tph and put the 2003 production at 2.78 million tonnes, down 16percent from last year.
In Germany, harvesting has started in the south but was still on hold ineast and northern regions where most rapeseed is grown, making it hard toassess yields, traders said.
"In the main German rapeseed areas, the harvest won't start until the endof next week. But it seems that the crop won't be as bad as most peopleexpected," one trader said.
In Britain, traders and analysts said they expected potentially loweryields from the forthcoming rapeseed crop.
"The crop could well be bigger this year based on a sharp increase inarea, but there are concerns that wetter-than-usual weather last Autumnhas harmed the younger, developing plants," John Garstang of leading cropconsultants ADAS said.
He said yields could fall to 3.0 tph or even lower this season, frombetween 3.2 tph and 3.4 tph last year.
Recent trade estimates have pegged British rapeseed output as high as 1.5million tonnes in 2003, up from at least 1.3 million in 2002, based on anincrease in the area planted.
Britain's farm ministry said 433,000 hectares were planted to rapeseed in2003, a 21-percent rise over 2002.
Sunflower was also suffering, mainly in France.
"It's starting to really suffer from the heat in the south-west region -which grows one third of France's crop," Lagarde said, adding that theregion's average yield could be under 2.0 tph, far below the 2.4/2.5 tphin a normal year.
However, in the western and central parts of France, the situation was"not as bad" due to some heavy rain in June.
"All is not lost for sunseed if it gets some rain," he said.
In Italy, where sunflower harvesting was about to start, the output wasexpected to drop by around a third from last year as farmers had plantedmore remunerative alternative crops such as maize, an analyst with farmresearch body ISMEA said.
"Sunflower plantings fell sharply this year because of lower EU financialsupports," Letizia Fini of ISMEA told Reuters.
She forecast that sunflower output in the main growing regions,representing 70 percent of national production, would drop to 177,688tonnes in 2003 from 260,937 tonnes last year.
In Spain, industry officials said predictions were premature as thesunflower harvest only starts at the end of July but they were notoptimistic after a recent heat-wave that could cut yields by up to 20percent. Last year's crop was 900,000 tonnes.-Reuters