Soft wheat output in France, the European Union’s top producer, will fall by more than 2.5m tonnes, thanks to yield damage from dry weather, and a bigger switch by farmers to oilseeds than previously estimated.

The French farm ministry, in its first forecast for domestic crop production this year, pegged the soft wheat harvest at 32.90m tonnes, a fall of 2.54m tonnes from the 2021 result.

A harvest at that level would also represent a below-average result, coming in beneath any of the previous harvests bar the 29.21m tonnes registered for 2020.

The forecast reflected in part a blow to wheat, and other grain crops, from persistently hot and dry spring weather.

“These crops suffered from the lack of rainfall, the heat and, in places, damage caused by storms,” the ministry said.

Grains vs oilseeds

However, it highlighted too more enthusiasm by farmers than had been thought for sowing oilseeds, meaning less land allocated for some cereals than had been thought.

The ministry cut by more than 50,000 hectares, to 4.71m hectares, its estimate for soft wheat sowings for the 2022 harvest, with the figure for durum wheat seedings downgraded by nearly 20,000 hectares to 257,000 hectares.

By contrast, the figure for rapeseed plantings was upgraded by 27,000 hectares to 1.21m hectares – a rebound of more than 230,000 hectares year on year, and the largest seedings since 2018.

The French rapeseed harvest this year was pegged at a four-year high of 3.98m tonnes.

Price incentive

For sunflowers, the ministry raised its sowings estimate by 43,000 hectares to 840,000 hectares, “a level not observed since the end of the 1990s”, in fact in 25 years, although stopped short of giving a production estimate.

France last year produced 1.91m tonnes of sunflower seed, from 698,000 hectares of plantings – a figure itself above the average area, of 644,000 hectares.

Prices of oilseeds have been especially strong, thanks not just to the drought hit to last year’s rapeseed-canola crop in Canada, the top exporter, but factors including the war in Ukraine, a major shipper of rapeseed to Europe, and the biggest exporter of sunflower seed and oil.

EU sunflower seed prices, on European Commission data, hit a record $1,123 per tonne in March, at the start of the spring sowings season. That represented a rise of 58% for 2022.

However, values have since fallen back to $827 a tonne, amid the broader retreat in grain and oilseed prices attributed to factors such as waning economic growth hopes and pressure from the northern hemisphere harvest.

Rapeseed prices, as measured in Moselle, hit a record $1,144 a tonne in April, gaining a rare premium over sunflower seed, the commission data show.

Rapeseed values have since fallen back to $695 a tonne, regaining their usual discount to sunflower seed.