European Union rapeseed sowings will extend their recovery to hit a five-year high in 2023-24, and soybean plantings hit a record high, as farmers switch land to oilseeds, encouraging by pricing and cost reasons.

Strategie Grains, in its first forecast for EU rapeseed area for next season, pegged it at 6.0m hectares, up by some 200,000 hectares year on year.

Area at that level would represent the highest since the 6.9m hectares seeded in 2018-19, on Strategie Grains estimates, before a tumble in sowings prompted by the bloc’s ban on neonicotinoid insecticides, one of the few effective controls of cabbage stem flea beetle, a serious brassica pest.

Buoyant prices of the oilseed, of which the EU is the world’s top consumer, largely for making biodiesel, have encouraged farmers to try innovative production methods to deter beetles, such as delaying plantings or interplanting with other crops, such as buck wheat.

‘Quite attractive’

From a price perspective, rapeseed, which is sown in August and September in Europe, “is quite attractive for farmers at present”, Strategie Grains said.

Paris rapeseed prices, as measured by the spot February contract, stood at E662.50 per tonne on Monday.

While well below the record E1,094 per tonne set in April – amid the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a key exporter to the EU – that represents an elevated price nonetheless by historical standards, with values rarely touching E500 per tonne before last year.

The consultancy said that area expansion had been led by Western European countries, and crop prospects supported by “quite good” rainfall both “before and after planting time”.

‘Good economic profitability’

Among spring-seeded oilseeds, Strategie Grains forecast record EU soybean sowings of 1.11m hectares for 2023, with sunflower area expected to remain close to the all-time high of 5.10m hectares estimated for this year’s harvest.

Describing soybeans and sunflowers as offering “good economic profitability”, the consultancy said that both oilseeds were “favoured in crop rotations because of their lower need for inputs compared to the rival crops”.

This represented “a key factor in a context of high prices of inputs and phytosanitary products”.

Import needs

EU imports of the three oilseeds rose from 19.3m tonnes in 2018-19, excluding the UK, to top 21m tonnes over the next three seasons, thanks to the downturn in the bloc’s own rapeseed production.

The European Commission forecasts imports easing back to a combined 19.90m tonnes in 2022-23, after a better rapeseed harvest this year.

Nonetheless, rapeseed imports have started the season at a strong pace, up by 34% so far, with sunflowerseed imports up sevenfold, after a drought-hit harvest in key EU producer France.

Soybean imports, at 3.66m tonnes, are running 10.5% below year-ago levels.