French Soft-Wheat Growth 19 Days Behind Last Year on Cold March

France’s soft-wheat growth was almost three weeks behind last year’s pace after unusually cold March weather, compared with warmer-than-normal conditions a year earlier, crop office FranceAgriMer said.

Plant development on average was about 19 days behind 2012 at the start of April and delayed by nine days compared with the prior year, according to Maggy Muckensturm, head of the Cere’Obs crop-monitoring project at FranceAgriMer. The country is the 27-nation European Union’s largest wheat producer.

“We see a delay in vegetation that is generally more pronounced in northern France,” Muckensturm said at a meeting today in Montreuil-sous-Bois, outside Paris. Comparing with 2011 is better because “2012 was a little atypical, with crop-development stages that were well in advance,” she said.

France had an unusually cold March this year, with average temperatures of 7.5 degrees Celsius (45.5 degrees Fahrenheit), 1.3 degrees lower than usual, the Agriculture Ministry reported last week. That’s after the year-earlier month was 2.3 degrees Celsius warmer than normal, while March 2011 was 1.1 degrees above the long-term average.

“The cold certainly played a role,” Muckensturm said. “How the crop will develop from here, nobody can say today.”

As of April 1, 22 percent of France’s soft-wheat crop had developed a grain head of 1 centimeter (0.4 inch), according to FranceAgriMer data, compared with 86 percent a year earlier.

Leaf Development

The delay doesn’t mean wheat-yield potential is reduced compared to last year, with plant density in some plots greater than in 2012, according to Remi Haquin, president of the cereals council at FranceAgriMer. Late-planted wheat benefited from good leaf development, know as tillering, and the potential for the grain-head count is “relatively high,” he said.

“We have moisture in the soils, so we’re able to resist a period of drought,” said Haquin, who grows soft wheat on his 350-hectare (865-acre) farm north of Paris. “In general it’s the month of June that makes the grain.”

Sixty-six percent of France’s soft-wheat crop was rated good or excellent as of April 1, unchanged from the previous week and compared with 65 percent a year earlier, according to crop office data.

Total rainfall in France since Sept. 1 was 20 percent above normal, boosting soil moisture above reference values from the south to the east, the Agriculture Ministry wrote last week.

More Sowing

Last year’s soft-wheat crop in France rose to 35.7 million metric tons from 34 million tons in 2011, when spring drought hurt production. Planting for this year’s harvest expanded 2.1 percent to 4.96 million hectares from 4.86 million hectares last year, according to FranceAgriMer.

France’s five-year average soft-wheat yield is 7.27 tons a hectare, which would result in higher production compared to last year when multiplied by this year’s planted area, according to Xavier Rousselin, head of arable crops at FranceAgriMer.

Delayed crop development may cut yields to 6.98 tons a hectare and lower production to 34.8 million tons, Agritel predicted this week. The Paris-based farm adviser in April last year forecast a 2012 crop of as much as 34.5 million tons, 1.2 million tons less than the actual harvest.

Winter-barley development in France was 18 days behind 2012 and 13 days behind the prior year, while respective delays were 19 days and 11 days for durum wheat, the hard variety of the grain used to make pasta and couscous.

“Normally barley is more advanced compared to soft wheat,” Muckensturm said. “We see here the effect of the cold and wet conditions of March. It’s not troublesome for the barley potential.”

Spring barley was 97 percent planted and 35 percent emerged as of April 1, 12 days behind 2012 and 19 days delayed compared with 2011, according to Muckensturm.

“Practically zero” corn was sown at the start of the month, compared with 16 percent in 2012 and 5 percent a year before that. “Soils are too cold,” Muckensturm said. “Several regions indicate a trend to sow more early varieties.”

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