The return of rains to much of Europe has helped winter grain sowings get off to a promising start but proved a mixed blessing for rapeseed, and came too late to revive corn and sunflower fortunes.

Many regions in Europe, including parts of France, Germany and “large parts of southern-central and eastern Europe” have since the start of September received rainfall 50% or more above the long-term average, boding well for ongoing winter grain seedings.

“The sowing campaign for winter cereals is progressing well across Europe without major concerns,” the European Commission’s Mars agrimeteorology bureau said.

In the Nordic countries, crops were showing “good emergence”, while “sowings are proceeding as planned” in France, Germany, the Benelux countries and Ireland, as well as outside the EU in the UK.

‘Faced more challenges’

However, the rains provided more of a test for rapeseed sowings, which have an earlier cut-off date, and indeed are typically finished by mid-September.

“Rapeseed sowing faced more challenges,” Mars said, reporting that while French plantings were “quickly concluded… in several other main-producing countries, part of the sowing occurred outside the optimal window” thanks to last month’s wetness.

In Poland, “torrential rains resulted in soil sealing and uneven emergence”, creating a soil crust which prevented seedlings breaking through and “in some cases necessitated re-sowing”.

And after wet and cold weather last month “delayed plant development… optimal conditions are required for the rest of autumn to secure adequate development before winter dormancy”.

‘Quarter of area will not be harvested’

Meanwhile, for corn (maize) the rains arrived too late to revive yield prospects – if allowing stabilisation in some areas, such as northern France, where the moisture “helped to avoid historically low yields”.

In Hungary – where rains “did not help to recover summer crops in most regions, as maturity was already reached – Mars reported that “the maize yield is expected to be historically low.

“It is likely that grain maize on close to a quarter of the sown area will not be harvested at all or will be converted to silage maize.”

Mars trimmed by a further 0.05 tonnes per hectare, to 6.34 tonnes per hectare, its forecast for the EU’s corn yield this year, taking to 20% the decline from 2021, which achieved a result close to the five-year average.

The EU sunflower yield estimate was cut by 0.08 tonnes per hectare to 1.97 tonnes per hectare, expanding to 17% the dip expected from last year, which also came in with a close-to-average result.

Market implications

The sunflower result has limited European Union farmers’ ability to cash in on prices boosted by the war in Ukraine, the top exporter of sunflower seed.

Sunflower seed in Bordeaux, France as of last Wednesday stood at $715 per tonne, more than one-third above their five-year average, commission data show.

The weak corn result, meanwhile, has prompted a doubling in the bloc’s imports of the grain so far in 2022-23, to 8.39m tonnes.

Of this, 3.10m tonnes has been provided by Ukraine, enhanced by the safe shipment corridor agreed with Russia, but with Brazil the top origin, at 4.65m tonnes, commission data show.

In Brazil, the Imea institute said overnight that the EU’s weak harvest, combined with the potential of hampered shipments from Ukraine, means that the bloc’s “demand for Brazilian corn is expected to remain heated for the season”.