Heatwave ravages European fields, sending wheat prices soaring

PARIS/MOSCOW/HAMBURG: Searing heat has devastated wheat fields across northern Europe while a combination of dry conditions and extreme rain in the Black Sea have hit output estimates, with prices soaring on fears of further crop damage.
Evidence of serious harm to crops is growing as harvesting heads north in Germany, the European Union’s second largest wheat producer, and in Scandinavia, prompting further cuts to estimates for the 28-member bloc.
“The situation is catastrophic in northern Europe,” Strategie Grains said on Thursday. The consultancy last week cut its forecast for this year’s soft wheat harvest in the EU, collectively the world’s largest wheat grower, below 130 million tonnes, a six-year low, and Defois said it could revise the estimate again.
France, the EU’s top producer, has also experienced extreme weather, prompting forecasters to cut their estimates to around 34 million tonnes from 36.6 million harvested last year.
Scandinavia and other Baltic states have also suffered, with Sweden’s wheat crop seen falling 40 per cent while in Britain, where wheat crops are expected to fall to a five-year low, farmers are anxiously awaiting results as the harvest moves north.
“It’s far worse than we expected,” Sebastien Poncelet, analyst at Agritel said.” It has been months since it has rained in some parts of northern Europe and in Germany there should be no rain for at least another two weeks.” Reacting to the crisis, the European Commission said on Thursday it would speed up payments to farmers hit by extreme drought and allow them to use fallow land that normally would not be used for production to feed their livestock. Wheat prices have surged more than 20 per cent on European and US markets in the past three weeks on mounting worries over global wheat supplies. Prices were also supported by a severe drought hitting crops in Australia. Euronext milling wheat futures hit a more than five-year high of 214.50 euros ($249.36) per tonne on Thursday. Overall output is seen falling to five-year lows, the International Grains Council said last week after lowering its forecasts for the EU’s top four producers, France, Germany, Britain and Poland.
The wheat rally is reviving memories of 2007/08 when surging prices prompted a food crisis. But analysts say high stocks and other grain crops could compensate for part of the shortfall. — AFP