EU rapeseed sowings may recover after poor summer harvest

HAMBURG, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Rapeseed sowings in major EU producers could increase after this summer’s poor harvest although restrictions on insecticides are causing problems for farmers, experts said on Thursday.

Drought in 2018 hindered sowing of rapeseed, the European Union’s main crop for vegetable oil and biodiesel production, cutting this summer’s EU rapeseed harvest to a 13-year low.

“We could see a recovery this year because of expanded sowings in France and Germany,” one grains analyst said. “But smaller producers could cut rapeseed cultivation, so the overall trend is still unclear.”

In France, the largest EU rapeseed producer, oilseed institute Terres Inovia estimates the rapeseed sown area for next year’s harvest could reach 1.2 million-1.3 million hectares, up from 1.1 million this year.

The area harvested this summer was down around 30% from last year after drought decimated sowing.

“The situation is a bit like last year in that we have some extremely dry zones where it’s very hard for crops to emerge,” Fabien Lagarde of Terres Inovia said. “Conditions are a little better than last year though, there has been more rain in some regions.”

Rainfall in coming weeks would be crucial to determine whether recently sown rapeseed would emerge or if farmers could try late sowings, Lagarde added.

In second-largest producer Germany, wetter weather than last year means the rapeseed area could expand to 1 million-1.2 million hectares from only 850,000 hectares harvested this summer, a German analyst said.

But the EU’s ban on using neonicotinoid insecticides to protect bees made farmers hesitant about rapeseed cultivation.

“Conditions are good enough for farmers to plant the rapeseed they wish but they may not wish to plant much more this year,” the analyst said. “Neonicotinoid restrictions cut some rapeseed crop yields by around 10%, which is a painful loss of money.”

In the third-largest producer Poland, the winter rapeseed area may be cut to 660,000-680,000 hectares from 750,000 hectares for the 2019 harvest, said Wojtek Sabaranski of analysts Sparks Polska.

“This is mostly a consequence of poor yields and low profitability of rapeseed production for another year in a row,” Sabaranski said. “Many farmers are just fed up with rapeseeds, dry conditions at planting time were also a problem in some regions.”

In Britain, a further decline in area is anticipated due to the threat posed by insects.

“We are expecting it to fall further, nearer to 500,000 hectares in the coming season,” said Chloe Lockhart, combinable crops adviser with the National Farmers Union. This year’s harvest was 514,00 hectares.

Neonicotinoid restrictions are also causing British farmers problems with insect pests.

“Cabbage stem flea beetle is still a huge concern,” she said. “This year we have had near perfect conditions for drilling and still crops are being destroyed. The risk is extreme, it just gets eaten in front of your eyes.” (Reporting by Michael Hogan, Gus Trompiz and Nigel Hunt, editing by Susan Fenton)