French farmers are expecting their worst wheat yields in more than a decade, with analysts forecasting a 26% drop in production from last year.
Wet weather and high levels of humidity between May and June had fuelled diseases and pests, damaging wheat crops, especially in central and northern regions of France.
Speaking at a press briefing this week, Philippe Pinta, president of Orama, the wheat sector branch of France’s national farming union FNSEA, said: “The situation is very serious. I’ve never known anything like this before.
“Cereal growers are facing catastrophes that are difficult to imagine, some with [soft wheat] yields three times less than average.
“Yields are down for the majority, or even three-quarters [of wheat growers].”
The big cereal-growing regions of the Île-de-France and Centre-Val-de-Loire have been particularly affected.
Lack of sunlight
A lack of sunlight during the grain-filling period has also prevented crops from growing correctly.
As a result, the soft wheat crop in France is expected to fall to 30 million tonnes this year, down 26% from a record 41 million tonnes last year, according to FNSEA.
It means French farmers are going to struggle to meet milling quality specs and wheat will end up in feed.
Media reports have suggested that France may have to resort to importing milling wheat.
Milling wheat premiums have risen in the past few weeks, partly as a result of the poor French yield and quality reports.
In the week to 29 July, the average price for full-spec breadmaking milling wheat (September delivery) rose by more than £4/t to average just over £143/t.
Feed wheat prices rose by about £1.50/t to average £113.50/t ex-farm for September.
Photographs emailed to Farmers Weekly from French co-operative Cerepy, based in central France, show the impact of the poor weather on wheat crops.
French wheat grown in the Aube region, east of Paris, has smaller heads with fewer grains than wheat grown in Ireland.
Other pictures reveal the extent of shriveled grains and high disease pressure.
The French agriculture ministry has launched a plan to help the country’s cereal farmers. This includes tax breaks, measures to refund VAT and help to guarantee banking loans.
Concerns about wheat crops in France are also being mirrored in the UK, with reports of a lot of fusarium, which could affect quality.
However, the picture should become clearer in the UK over the next few days as early wheat crops are harvested.