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Drought damage to French wheat 'irreversible'

Paris, May 17, 2011

A drought in France has become so severe that there can be no recovery from crop losses, and this year's wheat output is likely to fall by far more than 5 per cent in the European Union's largest grain producer, an expert said.

'Taking into account the weather, there is no possibility anymore to catch up on yields at a national scale after the long hydric stress of the past weeks,' said Jean-Charles Deswartes, an engineer at France's grains technical institute Arvalis.

'Crop losses are now above 5 per cent at national level compared with last year,' he told Reuters in an interview. He later explained that the fall would be largely over 5 per cent at the end of the harvest but declined to release more precise estimates.

One of France's hottest and driest Aprils on record has parched farmland and cut water reserves, resurrecting the prospect of a drought similar to that of 1976. This has stoked worries about reduced wheat output, pushing grain prices higher.

Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said on Monday France was already in 'a situation of crisis' and limits on water consumption had been imposed in 28 of its 96 administrative departments.

No substantial rainfall is expected in the next two weeks, and Meteo France forecaster Michel Daloz told Reuters on Monday that temperatures were set to rise sharply in the coming week, boosting groundwater evaporation.

Deswartes estimated that over 85 per cent of France's wheat crop suffered from a lack of water, and this included deep soils and the most productive ones in northern France.

'Areas in the north where a catch-up would still be possible when ear heads fill up are increasingly isolated,' he said.

The expert said the widening limits on water consumption were threatening even irrigated crops in the Beauce, the Auvergne and the Rhone Valley regions.

France produced 35.6 million tonnes of wheat in 2010/11, according to estimates from French farm office FranceAgriMer.

But despite a 2 per cent increase in planted areas, market players polled by Reuters estimate this year's wheat harvest at 33-34 million tonnes, with some forecasts as low as 31.5 million tonnes, which would mean a drop of over 10 per cent.-Reuters




Tags: agriculture | France | farming | food grains | Wheat Crop |

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