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French Wheat Output Drops to 40-Year Lows

Beaucoup corn makes only silage.

NORMANDIE, France-- France, Europe’s leading wheat producer, is coming off a disastrous crop season.

Wheat production for the 2016-2017 campaign amounted to 28 million tonnes, compared with 40 MT last year, according to FranceAgriMer. (The agency is equivalent to USDA, according to the Ag French Ministry.)

Average yields are estimated at 80.91 bushels per acre, a decline of over 32% compared with last year. The reason for the disastrous harvest: the weather! Until late spring, the potential was very good, but some areas that were the most productive until early June had 200 mm of water in two days. Moreover, the lack of sunshine inhibited photosynthesis. Such lack of production has not been seen in France since 1976, the year of severe drought.

Other European countries were also affected but to a lesser extent.

France’s Export Leader Role Threatened

France, undisputed leader in the export of wheat in 2015-2016 in Europe with over 12 million tonnes to third countries, revises its ambitions sharply downward.

For the 2016-2017 campaign, exports should be down significantly. This year's exports are estimated at 4.7 million tons. The quality of wheat also suffered the disastrous weather, the lowest average for at least 20 years. However, the failed crop yields helped to raise the level of proteins, 81% of the volumes have a protein content above 12% – unheard of! In France, only 10% of volumes reach that level on average for the last five years.  

Horrible Year

For the agricultural sector, this is a horrendous season, especially for businesses located on the port of Rouen in Normandy (1 exporter port of cereals in Europe). On average, more than 5 million tonnes of wheat pass through its silos; this year this figure will hardly reach 2 million tons.

For farmers, the low yields, combined with the depressed prices on international markets will strongly impact the treasuries of French farms. According to the cabinet Agritel, a grain farm of 300 acres (the average size row-crop farm in France) will see a minimum deficit of 60,000 euros (± 66,600 $).

“According to our data, the current price for a wheat tender, sales only reach $331.84 acre. This is far from the $663.70 per acre needed to cover all the costs of operation,” says Michel Portier, CEO of Agritel.

The French government has already taken exceptional measures to provide support to farmers so they can restart production cycle.

To date, the planned wheat acreage projections, for the next campaign, should not fall, but it is still too early to say. However, there is a safe bet that French farmers lack cash and plan to invest less for inputs (fertilizers and pesticides).

Double punishment for maize

While France is in full harvest of corn, again, the campaign does not look good. The harvest is expected at 12 million tonnes (down 6.6% from last year). This year’s small crop follows the small crop in 2014/2015, when France harvested 17 million tons of corn.

This year, the corn was affected by the rains in late spring and an autumn drought. Beaucoup producers have opted to harvest maize for silage rather than to harvest for grain. However, France is not an exporter of corn, as production is generally self-consumed, particularly by feed manufacturers. But this year, the high-protein wheat is likely to come into competition with corn in domestic uses.


Written by Hélène Sauvage, a French journalist with Groupe ATC



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