The European Union is heading for a below-average soft wheat yield this year, official researchers said, cautioning over “continued drier-than-usual conditions” in much of the bloc, and record high temperatures in France.

The European Commission’s Mars agrimeteorology bureau cut for a fourth successive month its forecast for the 2022 EU soft wheat yield, this time by 0.13 tonnes per hectare to 5.76 tonnes per hectare.

The downgrade, which took the forecast below the five-year average, reflected “continued drier-than-usual conditions in large parts of Europe”, with one notable exception the Baltic area, where “crops were negatively affected by persistently colder-than-usual weather”.

Yield forecasts for durum wheat, at 3.44 tonnes per hectare, and winter barley, at 5.73 tonnes per hectare, were also downgraded below five-year average levels.

‘Strongly unfavourable’

The soft wheat yield forecast for France, the EU’s top producer and exporter, took a particularly large knock, of 0.32 tonnes per hectare to 6.85 tonnes per hectare, thanks to damage encouraged by temperatures which saw maximum temperatures top 30 Celsius in some areas for two weeks or more.

“During the review period, maximum temperatures at country level were the highest in our record,” Mars said in its monthly bulletin, noting that the heatwave was accompanied by rainfall levels of at best 1 inch in southern and western areas.

“While April was dry already, in May too rainfall was well below the long-term average in the entire country.

“High temperatures combined with the significant water deficit were strongly unfavourable” for crop development.

The bureau added that “the yield outlook for winter crops is overall negative”, although noted a divide between northern areas, north of Paris, where “around-average yields are expected” and regions further south, with weaker prospects.

‘Rainfall is urgently needed’

Yield prospects for Romania, a key EU wheat exporter, were notably downgraded too, by 0.30 tonnes per hectare to 4.26 tonnes per hectare, taking the forecast more than 1.00 tonne per hectare below last year’s result.

“The persistent rain deficit in several winter crop growing regions, combined with a temperature accumulation surplus during the period under review, further deteriorated winter crop conditions,” Mars said.

“Precipitation was mostly up to 50% below the long-term average.”

The weather threatens prospects for yields too of Romania’s summer crops, such as corn, of which the country is the EU’s top producer.

“Rainfall is urgently needed to sustain the yield potential of summer crops,”

Ukraine outlook

Outside the EU, the bureau restated a caution too of the threat to Ukraine’s crops from a lack of rain, pegging the soft wheat yield at 4.11 tonnes per hectare, down from 4.53 tonnes last year, with the best results expected in eastern areas now somewhat under Russian control.

“Due to the adverse weather conditions experienced since the start of the current season, our yield forecast for winter crops is below the historical trend and well below last year’s record level.

“The yield outlook could be further reduced in case of hot and/or dry conditions in the coming weeks.”

For Ukraine’s key corn crop, the yield forecast was trimmed to 7.27 tonnes per hectare, down by 0.41 tonnes per hectare year on year, but still above the average of 6.76 tonnes per hectare.

‘Just on time’

The UK, by contrast, thanks to timely rainfall, received a small upgrade in its soft wheat yield forecast, by 0.02 tonnes per hectare to 8.18 tonnes per hectare, up by 0.38 tonnes year on year, and above an average of 8.03 tonnes.

“Rainfall arrived just on time to improve crop conditions before these were irreversibly impacted, and mild temperatures sustained adequate growth.”

However, the bureau added that soil moisture levels “in the south are still very low, and more rainfall is needed in the coming weeks to sustain the favourable yield outlook”.