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After coping with drought, fertiliser shortage worries French wheat growers

A potential shortage of fertilisers is increasing risks for next year’s wheat harvest in France, the European Union’s biggest producer, after this year’s crop was relatively unscathed by drought, growers group AGPB said.

This year’s French soft wheat harvest produced 33.60 million tonnes, down from 35.4 million in 2021 but close to the average volume of recent years, the AGPB said.

The estimate was slightly below the farm ministry’s most recent harvest projection of 33.87 million tonnes issued in early August.

Like other forecasters, the AGPB said harvest results varied widely depending on the local impact of drought and storms, with strong yields in northerly zones helping boost overall production.

France’s worst drought on record is expected to inflict bigger losses on other crops like maize and potatoes.

For this year’s wheat crop, farmers generally managed to secure sufficient fertiliser for spring field work. But further disruption to European fertiliser output amid reduced Russian gas flows was creating uncertainty about 2023, the AGPB said.

Growers were currently about 20 percentage points behind the level of fertiliser cover seen a year ago, the AGPB said.

“We’re faced with total uncertainty,” Cedric Benoist, the AGPB’s deputy secretary general, said.

“Depending on political statements, we have fluctuations in the gas market and production plants that close. At the moment I’m pretty pessimistic about availability of fertiliser.”

Nitrogen fertiliser is a particular preoccupation for wheat growers as it contributes both to yields and protein content, a key measure of milling quality.

Rising costs for fertiliser and energy were eroding grower margins that had been boosted by high cereal prices, the AGPB said.

Farmers were currently selling wheat at around 290-295 euros a tonne compared with production costs of 260-280 euros, a cost level about 100 euros more than last year, it estimated.

The AGPB said sowing trends for next year’s harvest would partly depend on how much rapeseed survived after the oilseed crop was sown in parched late-summer conditions.

Wheat sowing in France takes place in autumn.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Mark Potter)

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