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West EU maize yields seen better than feared

Paris, September 19, 2009

The maize harvest gathering pace in western should be less affected overall than feared by an August heatwave in part of the region, analysts said.

Output had been projected to fall across western Europe after producers sowed a small maize area this year, and a hot spell last month had raised the risk of damage to developing plants in the Europe's top producers, France and Italy.

However, the heat impact is now seen patchy for French maize and insignificant for Italian crops, forming part of a wider picture of yields differing according to planting and growing conditions.

In France, the EU's no. 1 producer, forecasters cut output estimates in the wake of the August heatwave and irrigation restrictions in some regions. But the stress on plants will vary widely between early and later-sown crops, and irrigated and non-irrigated zones, analysts said.

"This year's production should be below 2008 but the outlook is improving rather than deteriorating," said Jean-Paul Renoux, head of maize at French crop institute Arvalis.

With the harvest under way after an earlier than usual start, yields were still uncertain and could be boosted if fair weather let farmers leave plants standing while they dried, he said.

France's farm ministry last week cut its crop forecast to 14.97 million tonnes from 15.56 million last month, putting output down 7 per cent on 2008, while farm office FranceAgriMer pegged the crop at 14.9 million tonnes, down 5 percent on year.

Widely varying yields

In Italy, where harvesting is well advanced, farmers and traders also expected less damage than previously feared.

"This year we had two main problems: very humid weather when seeds were sown in April and an attack of (rootworm) diabrotica in the summer," said Lorenzo Craveri, analyst at agricultural research centre ERSAF in Lombardy, a major Italian maize region.

With more than 50 per cent of maize crops harvested in Lombardy, output there was expected to fall 3-5 per cent this year, according to ERSAF estimates. But in some areas which were hit by the rootworm particularly hard farmers have estimated output falls at 10-15 per cent, Craveri said.

In other major maize-producing regions the picture was patchy, with a 4-7 per cent output fall seen in Emilia Romagna, a 1-3 per cent fall in Veneto but a 2-4 per cent increase in Friuli Venezia Giulia, ERSAF said in a crop update.

Italy harvested about 10 million tonnes of maize in 2008.

Germany's maize harvest was starting this week in early regions and was expected to get underway on a wider scale next week, analysts said. This was about seven days earlier than expected because good weather had enabled rapid ripening.

Germany's Agriculture Ministry estimated the maize harvest will fall 16.2 per cent on the year to 4.28 million tonnes, mainly because of an 11 per cent fall in plantings to 463,000 hectares as farmers turned to higher-priced crops.

"We have not yet received real yield indications but it appears that yields in north and central Germany could be very good and this will balance out poorer performance in the east.

People are expecting a final crop somewhat above the ministry's estimate," one analyst said.

In import-hungry Spain, the maize harvest got under way in sunny southern regions in late August. But the harvest was less than 10 per cent complete nationwide and field work not due to begin in the northern grain belt until October.

Official data pegged output at about 6 per cent short of last year's at some 3.4 million tonnes, which farmers say is because low prices and high costs put them off planting.

Irrigation has saved the maize crop from potential damage from unusually hot and dry weather that cut the wheat and barley harvest by 30 per cent. – Reuters




Tags: Maize | paris | Western EU | ERSAF | Lombardy |

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