Rain relief has come too late to save autumn-harvested crops from severe losses, but did boost prospects for plantings of the likes of rapeseed which will be reaped in 2023, official European researchers said.

The European Commission’s Mars agrimeteorology bureau, cut by a further 0.24 tonnes per hectare, to 6.39 tonnes per hectare, its yield estimate for the European Union’s newly-started corn (maize) harvest, despite the return of rains to much of the region over the past month.

“The improved weather conditions arrived too late to significantly benefit summer crops,” said the bureau, whose downgraded yield estimate, if realised, would represent a 19% fall year on year, and the EU’s lowest result in a decade, compared with historical commission data.

‘Severe irreversible damages’

In France – the EU’s top corn grower last year, for which the yield estimate was cut by a further 0.35 tonnes per hectare to 8.02 tonnes per hectare – “abundant” rains arrived “after summer crops had undergone severe irreversible damages due to hot temperatures and the drought”, Mars said.

“The outlook for maize and sunflowers has been strongly impacted by the summer drought and repeated heatwaves,” the bureau said, adding that its reduced yield estimate was “close to a record low” for the country.

In Romania, for which the yield estimate was cut by a further 0.35 tonnes per hectare to 4.25 tonnes per hectare, rainfall also came too late to revive crops driven to early maturity by dryness.

“The hot temperatures in August led to an additional thermal stress which led to a shorter grain filling stage for grain maize and sunflowers and negatively affected their yield potential.”

‘Below the 2003 result’

A bigger downgrade was reserved for Italy, where the corn yield estimate was cut by 0.67 tonnes per hectare to 7.10 tonnes per hectare, “most summer crops did not benefit at all from the break in the drought conditions”, the bureau said.

Indeed, the rainfall only made matters worse in some cases, by “lodging” crops – collapsing them, and so making them harder to harvest.

“Considering the grain maize crop was failing due to drought conditions and lodged by storms, its yield forecast has been revised down below the 2003 value,” Mars said.

Hungary’s crop also received a notable downgrade, of 0.50 tonnes per hectare to 4.50 tonnes per hectare – 41% below the five-year average.

“The rain in late August arrived too late to prevent yield loss in most areas, and the grain-filling period occurred under severe water and temperature stress.”

‘Positive impacts’

However, for winter crops being seeded for 2023 harvests, the rains have proved beneficial – notably for rapeseed, which has an early sowings window, which has already closed indeed for many EU countries.

“Rainfall since mid-August did improve soil conditions for seedbed preparation and sowing of winter crops” in the bloc, Mars said.

In France, “the wet conditions since mid-August benefitted rapeseed sowing, now emerged and in good shape”, while in Romania, moisture “resulted in fair conditions for sowing and germination” of the oilseed.

In Poland, late-August rains, while broadly having “positive impacts”, proved too much in some areas, with Mars reporting that “locally resowing was required after torrential rains”.

Battle for acres

The improved prospects for the EU’s 2023 rapeseed crop have been reflected in markets, in terms of underperformance by new crop futures in the oilseed against those in wheat, the main rival in autumn sowings programmes.

The ratio between Paris November 2023 rapeseed futures and December 2023 wheat futures stood at 1.92 on Monday, down from 2.07 a month ago, so eroding the relative financial lure of the oilseed to growers.