France’s “exceptionally hot and dry” summer conditions was so severe that even irrigated crops suffered, officials said, as they cut further their harvest estimate, downgrading hopes for sunflowers and sugar beet too.

The French agriculture ministry – which last month downgraded its forecast for the drought-struck domestic corn (maize) harvest by 1m tonnes – trimmed a further 176,000 tonnes from the total, reducing it to 11.15m tonnes, which it termed a “very low level of production”.

Indeed, that would represent the smallest crop since the 9.26m-tonne harvest reported for 1990, and reflect a yield which, at 8.18 tonnes per hectare, would be “the lowest… observed since 2005”, the ministry said.

‘Drought affected the entire area’

The “sharp reduction” from the 10.41 tonnes per hectare achieved last year came “in connection with the drought that affected the entire area”.

Corn and other spring crops have been “heavily penalised by the exceptionally hot and dry summer conditions, unlike 2021 when they benefited from summer rains”.

Even irrigation from reservoirs and boreholes provided only partial protection for crops, with this year’s yield of watered corn, at 10.31 tonnes per hectare, while well above the average, down by 12.0% from 2021, and 6.9% below the five-year average.

“Worse still”, the yield of non-irrigated corn, at 7.09 tonnes per hectare, was estimated down by 28% from last year, and at 15.6% below the five-year mean.

Sunflowers, sugar beet

For sunflowers too, the ministry said that domestic yield potential had been “strongly affected by the drought”, and estimated at 2.13 tonnes per hectare.

That represented a downgrade of 0.4 tonnes per hectare from last month’s estimate, and took the figure 22% below last year’s result.

However, thanks to increased sowings – encouraged by the boost to price from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the top sunflower oil exporter – the harvest was expected, at 1.83m tonnes, to fall by only 2.9% year on year.

For sugar beet, the yield estimate was trimmed by 1.38 tonnes per hectare to 81.85 tonnes per hectare, shrinking the production forecast by some 400,000 tonnes to 32.92m tonnes.

That would represent a shortfall of 10.9% below the five-year average, although reflecting largely a drop in area for a crop for which growing prospects have been particularly undermined by the ban on neonicotinoid insecticides.

The crop is prone to losses to the beet yellows virus spread by aphids.