Wheat harvests in Europe keep global food costs under control

Thriving European crops could push global wheat output to new records in 2023-2024

Fields of wheat and potatoes in Vaulx-Vraucourt, France. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

As extreme weather wreaks havoc on crops in the Americas and North Africa, Europe’s breadbasket is thriving, with ample wheat harvests keeping global food costs under control, experts have said.

Across northern and eastern Europe, fields are abundant after plentiful spring rain.

The strong outlook for the world’s top wheat shippers has led prices to fall to less than half of last year’s record highs, buffering the effect of drought in other growing regions and the shortfall caused by the war in Ukraine.

This bodes well for lowering food-import bills and could help to keep inflation in check. Still, much hinges on the weather in June, and tight global reserves mean markets remain on edge.

“It’s still a long road to harvest,” said Sebastien Poncelet, senior analyst at Paris-based Agritel. “But for now the situation is OK.”

So far, the signs are positive. The blockbuster European crop could push global wheat output to new records in 2023-2024, the US Department of Agriculture has forecast.

More than 90 per cent of France’s soft-wheat has been rated “good” or “very good,” the best in more than a decade, and the government projects the EU’s total output at 131.5 million tonnes this year – about 6 per cent above the five-year average.

Vegetation is “really nice” after rain in April and May rain, with sunshine now arriving, said Philippe Heusele, general secretary of French growers group AGPB.

Cool, wet weather also put German crops on good footing, said Johann Meierhoefer, agriculture division head at farm lobby DBV.

Wheat is harvested in Orezu, south-east Romania. Reuters

In Romania, production could increase by 13 per cent in a rebound from last year’s drought, Agritel said.

Ricardo Luis, who oversees a 5,000-hectare farm in the south of the country, is optimistic. If it rains soon, he said, “the situation in some areas can pass from good to very good".

Russia’s harvest could also outpace its average by 7 per cent, although production will not pass the country’s 2022 record, said Andrey Sizov, managing director at agricultural consultant SovEcon.

According to Mikhail Bebin, an analyst at agribusiness GrainRus, wheat fields have sprouted 900 to 1,000 stalks per square metre, the same as last year.

In tandem with Russia’s large wheat reserves, 2023-2024 exports could hit an all-time high.

Even so, world wheat inventories will shrink for the fourth year in a row – risking a price rebound later.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created major setbacks in the sector, as shrinking profits and disruptions in exports forced farmers to reduce plantings.

Drought in Spain is also a concern, with this year marking the lowest amount of rain in decades and leaving some fields suitable only for livestock grazing.

In France, a soggy spring could promote crop disease, Mr Poncelet said.

The EU harvest begins around July, meaning weather over the next few weeks will be crucial to the bloc's haul. In Russia, spring wheat has only just been sowed.

If either Russia or the EU experience unexpected weather, “it changes the entire landscape", Dan Basse, president of consultant AgResource, said at the GrainCom conference in Geneva this month.

Updated: May 28, 2023, 4:00 AM