U.K. May Become Rapeseed Net Importer After Rain, Slugs Cut Crop

The U.K. may become a net importer of rapeseed for the first time in four years after excess rain swamped fields and crops were damaged by pigeons and slugs.

Production of rapeseed may drop to 1.5 million to 2 million metric tons during the 2013-14 harvest, which starts in July, said Owen Cligg, trading manager at Devizes, England-based marketing company United Oilseeds. That would be the smallest since at least 2009 and compares with last year’s harvest of 2.56 million tons, according to data from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

Through March, the U.K. had exported about 572,500 tons of last year’s crop, down 29 percent from the same time a year earlier, against imports of 16,200 tons, according to the most recent customs data distributed by the Kenilworth, England-based Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board. The U.K. was last a net importer in the 2009-10 season.

“The rapeseed situation is still very uncertain, and is where the majority of concerns lie,” Jack Watts, a senior analyst at AHDB, said in an interview last week. “We were hit very hard by the weather, which created a very late, variable crop. There is debate what side of the trade balance we’ll be on, a net importer or exporter.”

Rapeseed crops are maturing two to three weeks behind the normal pace, Cligg said by phone yesterday. Some farmers planted winter rapeseed about a month later than normal last September after wet weather slowed the wheat harvest and limited the number of fields available for sowing oilseeds, he said. The U.K. had its second-wettest year on record last year and the coldest spring this year since 1962, the Met Office says.

Winter Crops

Some farmers have replanted failed winter rapeseed crops with spring varieties, which typically yield less, Cligg said. Total production of 2 million tons would be the smallest crop since 2009, while output at 1.5 million tons would be the least since 2002, according to Defra.

“We’ve had some quite challenging conditions,” said Cligg, whose company handles 20 percent of the U.K.’s rapeseed. Crops were “hit with a barrage of pigeons and slugs and generally cold weather. It was a very late spring, which meant a lot of rapeseed was torn up because it was never really viable, because it had been destroyed by pests and cold winds.”

The U.K. will drop to fourth place for rapeseed production in the European Union this season, behind Germany, France and Poland, according to Brussels-based farm lobby Coceral. Rapeseed futures on NYSE Liffe in Paris rallied to a record 526.25 euros ($702.60) a ton in July, as world oilseed supplies were reduced by U.S. drought. The price has slid 21 percent since then, with the August contract closing at 416.75 euros a ton yesterday.

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