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Commodity Intelligence Report
May 24, 2007

Spring Dryness and Freeze Lowers Europe's 2007/08 Winter Crop Prospects

An Unusual Mix of Weather
An unusual combination of winter and spring weather events are shaping prospects for Europe's 2007/08 winter crops.  The most important weather factors influencing this year's production include very warm winter and spring temperatures which have accelerated plant growth.  Additionally, widespread spring dryness developed over much of Europe, stressing crops.  Meanwhile, a hard freeze occurred in north-central Europe, possibly damaging already weakened vegetation.  Finally, rain returned to the dry areas of the continent - both in northern Europe and in the Balkans during mid-May, preventing further injury.

Northern Europe Wheat Belt

As of May release, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts the 2007/08 European Union (EU-27) wheat crop at 127.3 million tons, 2.5 million above last year’s drought-reduced crop, but 2.1 million below the 5-year average.  Harvested area is forecasted at 24.9 million hectares, 0.4 million above last year’s crop.  Wheat yield is forecasted at 5.11 tons per hectare, almost identical to 2006/07, 2005/06, and the 5-year average. However, this season’s crop projection remains well below the high 5.65 tons per hectare achieved with nearly ideal weather during the 2004/05 season.

USDA forecasts the 2007/08 European Union (EU-27) barley crop at 56.7 million tons, up 0.5 million from last year but down 1.1 million from the 5-year average.  Harvested area is forecast at 13.9 million hectares, up 0.1 million from last year, and nearly equal to the 5-year average.  Barley yield is forecast at 4.09 tons per hectare, the same as last year, but slightly below the 4.17 tons per hectare 5-year average.

Rapeseed area continues to rise significantly each year with increased popularity of biodiesel.  Diesel is the primary transit fuel within the EU, and with an approaching EU energy mandate, higher petroleum prices, and increased crushing capacity, more farmers are sowing rapeseed to meet demand. Conversely, recent biofuel tax increases in Germany and overproduction of biodiesel at crushing facilities has complicated the overall picture.  The EU’s traditional rapeseed-producing countries lie in northern Europe and all are reporting to have increased area for 2007/08. The crop is primarily autumn-sown. Rapeseed plantings have also been expanding into non-traditional, rapeseed-producing countries like Romania and Bulgaria.  Although these countries' production comprises only a tiny amount of total acreage, it is reportedly increasing two-and-three fold in these new EU member states. The initial 2007/08 oilseed forecast will be released by USDA's World Board on June 11.

AFWA Seasonal Percent of Normal Precipitation; Spring storms have been consistently tracking on a southerly route bypassing northern Europe

Spring Dryness Gripped Northern Europe Grain Belt
During the months of March and April rains tracked to the south, away from Europe's major wheat belt. The resulting dryness caused stress to winter wheat, barley, and rapeseed. In particular, the large wheat and rapeseed producing regions of England, northern France, Germany, and Poland received only scant precipitation. Top soil moisture rapidly diminished in north-central Europe because of low precipitation and high temperatures.  Crops were forced to draw on subsoil moisture that had collected over the winter months.  The mild autumn and winter likely enabled the plants to develop deep root networks, capable of extracting the moisture.  The United Kingdom was fortunate, having had significant winter precipitation totals, which kept spring soil moisture reserves higher than those on the continent.  Meanwhile, as most of Europe was moisture deficient, Spain, Portugal, and southern Italy benefited from the unusual southerly storm track, receiving increased precipitation.  Spain was the biggest benefactor as rainfall helped replenish its long-depleted reservoir supplies, which were low because of several years of below-normal precipitation. 

The 2006-07 winter was one of the warmest on record for Europe.

Warm Winter 2006-07
Winter 2006-07 was one of the warmest on record for much of the European continent. Records were broken as temperatures consistently hovered well above normal and snowfall was minimal.  Northern Italy's agriculturally important Po River has been flowing well below normal because of the lack of snowmelt (from the low snowpack) in the Alps - the primary water source for Italy's irrigated croplands.  

Because of the consecutive winter months with high temperatures, concern lingered throughout winter that a cold spell would arrive, severely damaging the ill-winterized crop.  Nagging worries of potential winterkill damage, however, never materialized because the weather remained very mild, and when there finally was a cold outbreak late in the season, snowcover insulated and protected the crops.  Insect and pest damage, however, is likely to rise because of the mild winter.

Advanced Crop Stage for Winter Crops
Vegetation across Europe responded to the persistently warm temperatures with rapid development. This was depicted using biomass reflectance values that were much higher than those of other years, taken at the same time during the growing season.  The satellite-captured normalized vegetation index (NDVI) is a measure of plant health and biomass.  Indications from imagery and ground verification show European winter crops to be two to four weeks ahead of normal development. 

NDVI Image 1 (Poland, Hungary Romania)
NDVI Image 2 (France and Germany)

Extended Dryness in the Balkans
The driest agricultural area in Europe this season has been in Romania and Bulgaria, specifically along the intensively farmed Danube Plain.  This is a large fertile area that follows the river dividing the two countries. Combined with the drought in neighboring Greece, these southern Balkan countries continue to have the lowest soil moisture levels in Europe - a result of minimal winter and spring precipitation.   Reports are circulating in the press of large losses of yield potential in these two new EU member states. 

Low temperatures dropped below freezing in most of Poland on the morning of May 2nd.  Temperperatures dipped as low as -6 celsius.  Concerns are for possible damage to the crops because of cold.

Freeze Damage Possible in Poland, Germany
A strong late-season cold front passed through Poland and Germany in late April and again in early May. On both occasions temperatures plummeted below freezing. A widespread and prolonged freeze occurred in Poland during the night of May 1 and the morning of May 2. On average, temperatures fell to -3º to -6º C, likely causing damage to the heat-advanced winter crops of wheat, barley, and rapeseed.  Germany's lows were less severe than those in Poland, but areas were below freezing, and likely caused localized damage.

Rainfall Returned in Late Spring to Northern Europe, then Finally Southeast Europe
At the beginning and middle of May [(1-10) and (11-20)], rainfall returned to northern Europe when a long-established high pressure ridge broke down, allowing precipitation to return north. This badly needed rain will likely go a long way toward improving crop conditions, but more rains are needed. It is likely too late for complete yield recovery in northern Europe; Expectations for robust 2007/08 yields have been lowered from initial prospects to a more average yield. The current beneficial May and the as yet unknown June weather will certainly impact final output, with harvest expected to peak in July. Soil moisture levels have risen rapidly in most of Europe, but they remained extremely low in Romania and Bulgaria until about May 20, when much of the Balkans received 20 - 60 mm. of precipitation in just a few days. While this large shot of rainfall should greatly improve prospects for southeast Europe's summer crops of corn and sunflowerseed, its late arrival prevents a positive rebound for the winter crops. Temperatures continued to be above normal in April across Europe.

Individual EU country Breakout

Wheat Yield: Poland & Germany, France & Romania
Barley Yield: Poland & Germany, France & Romania
Rapeseed Yield (until 06/07): Poland & Germany, France

Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on PECAD's Agricultural Production page or at PSD Online.

For more information contact Bryan Purcell | | (202) 690-0138

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