Low French rainfall adds new cloud to global food market

Ukraine farmers, such as this one seen driving past a Russian missile near Kharkiv, have reduced their wheat planting this year.

French farmer Robin Lachaux is worried about his wheat. In normal years, it flowers and bulks up in May thanks to regular spring rainfall, but this year hot and dry conditions risk stunting its progress.

“If we don’t water it today, we’ll lose 50 percent of our output,” the young farmer in an orange cap and sweatshirt from Sully-sur-Loire in central France told AFP.

France is Europe’s agricultural powerhouse, the biggest grain producer in the 27-country bloc and the world’s fourth or fifth biggest wheat exporter.

On Monday, the French agricultural ministry warned about the impact of an unseasonably hot and dry stretch which “will have an impact on cereal production” in France following lower-than-average rainfall over the winter period.

“There’s not a region that’s not affected,” the head of French farmers’ union FNSEA, Christiane Lambert, told AFP.

The French national weather service said the country was in the grip of a hot spell that is “notable for its timing, its duration and its geographical spread”, with a 20-percent drop in rainfall between September 2021 and April 2022.

World food prices hit an all-time high in March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which accounted for 20 percent of global wheat and maize exports over the past three years, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Production could fall by as much as 50 percent this year, according to government and industry forecasts, with some farmers abandoning their fields to join the army.

With top wheat-producing states in the United States such as Kansas and Oklahoma also suffering from drought-like conditions, poor French yields could be particularly significant in 2022.

“The question is whether export volumes will be enough.”

Current wheat prices in Europe are at a record 400 euros a tonne ($420), up from an already high level of around 260 euros a tonne at the start of the year before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Some of the recent price rises are down to short-term shortages caused by the sudden end to Ukrainian supplies, as well as some farmers holding back from selling their produce in anticipation of higher prices going forward.

But as traders and farmers scan the weather forecasts and devise their trading strategies, aid groups warn that lives are at risk in some of the most vulnerable places on earth such as war-wracked Yemen or countries in the arid Sahel region of northern Africa.

A prolonged drought in France could make that much worse.

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Originally published as Low French rainfall adds new cloud to global food market

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