What is bone-dry tons

Drought summer with poor harvests

Below-average grain harvests, bone-dry soils - 2020 was the third year in a row marked by extreme weather conditions

The total grain harvest amounted to around 42.4 million tons. It remained around two million tonnes (= almost five percent) below the average for the period from 2015 to 2019. While southern Germany is in relatively good shape, the east suffered heavy harvest losses due to the persistent drought.

The harvest losses are due either to massive drought or heavy rain or late frosts or the massive occurrence of mice, according to the DBV's harvest balance sheet. Sufficient rain had only fallen in June. The precipitation was distributed very differently from region to region.

It is true that the average yield of all types of grain, at seven tons per hectare, is roughly the same as the average for the years 2015 to 2019. However, at just under 6.1 million hectares, the area under grain is around 240,000 hectares (= four percent) smaller than the long-term average. Depending on the distribution of precipitation and the quality of the soil, the yields also varied locally. And some farms recorded higher crop losses than others.

Less yield on less acreage

As current data show, there were lower areas under cultivation and lower yields, especially for winter barley and wheat, winter rye and triticale. Winter wheat in particular stood on less than 2.8 million hectares and thus took up almost 300,000 hectares less acreage than in the previous year.

That year, 21.1 million tons of wheat were harvested. Last year it was 22.8 million tons. After all, an average yield per hectare of 7.6 tons per hectare was achieved nationwide. The yield was thus slightly higher than in the previous year.

Even with winter barley, the area under cultivation, at 1.3 million hectares, was slightly lower than in 2019. The yield per hectare was also lower at 6.7 tons. In the previous year it was 7.2 tons.

In addition to the drought in March and April, night frosts in May were named as the cause. In some areas there were even total failures or the barley was harvested prematurely for whole-plant silage. A total of 8.8 million tons of winter barley were fetched from the field, around one million tons less than in the previous year.

In contrast, spring barley areas were expanded by 10,000 hectares to a total of 367,000 hectares. The crop yields rose from 1.8 to 1.9 million tons, because the hectare yield of 5.1 tons was similar to the previous year. When the protein content is optimal, spring barley is processed as brewing barley.

However, this year at the particularly low producer price of currently 163 euros, which is 20 euros below the previous year's price. One reason was the closure of restaurants and canceled major events. With the lockdown, beer sales fell, which in turn slowed down the demand for brewing barley.

Drought causes a lack of food

There was only a slight increase in the yields of winter rye. On the one hand, the acreage of 634,000 hectares was above average compared to the average for the last six years. The yields per hectare were 5.5 tons, seven percent above the multi-year average.

A total of 3.5 million tons of winter rye were harvested, but due to the shortage of fodder, part of it is chopped into whole-plant silage and thus not available for grain production, according to the DBV press release.

After the great drought in spring, the situation has improved regionally this year. In some regions, however, animal feed is somewhat similar to that after the two drought summers in 2018 and 2019. For this reason, Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner allows farmers to make more use of areas that were only available to a limited extent for environmental reasons.

The heat and drought in August enabled a swift harvest of grain and rapeseed. However, crops such as maize, potatoes and sugar beets, which are still in the middle of yielding, are increasingly suffering from a lack of water.

Due to falling prices, many farms are in an economically difficult situation. After this year's harvest with 282 million tonnes, the EU imported twelve million fewer tonnes of grain than in 2019. For example, the EU and Great Britain exported only 978,000 tonnes of common wheat in the first six weeks of the current marketing year - a decrease of 61 percent compared to the same period of the previous year.

Nevertheless, the producer prices would be under pressure from the expected "comfortable supply of the world market and the strong competition on the export markets". Above all, the producer prices for bread wheat fell.

Rapeseed harvests decrease from year to year

Last year, the rapeseed harvest suffered from the consequences of the 2018 drought. This summer, the consequences of the Corona crisis will also come. Although the rapeseed harvest, at 3.3 million tonnes, was 0.5 million tonnes better than in the previous year, it remains 20 percent below the multi-year average of 4.1 million tonnes due to the small area under cultivation. In 2020, rapeseed was grown on an area of ​​954,000 hectares, twelve percent more than last year.

Rapeseed cultivation is tending to decline. As early as last summer, many farmers refrained from sowing rape because they feared yield losses due to the expected drought. This trend should continue this year. From 2015 to 2019, an average of 1.2 million hectares of rapeseed was cultivated. After all, the rapeseed yields per hectare of 3.5 tons per hectare are slightly above the average for this period.

The cultivation of more drought-resistant varieties is of little use if it has not rained for six to seven weeks, explains Joachim Rukwied. To protect the farms against bad harvests, the President of the German Farmers' Association calls for "individual farm risk provisions through state-supported multi-risk insurance and the introduction of a tax reserve". The farmers should be able to cover increasing drought risks with multiple risk insurance.

Rain is more necessary than ever for the upcoming rapeseed sowing. Plant cultivation consultants recommend postponing the rape sowing date if the soil should be completely dry due to the location and no rain in sight. Mulching would also be an alternative to plowing, because a mulch pad reduces evaporation and protects against erosion on slopes. Just a year ago, agricultural experts recommended a number of herbicides - for pre- and post-emergence and for post-treatment in autumn.

In the meantime, the lack of control options for important rapeseed pests increases the yield risk, which has reduced the multi-year average yield, as stated in the DBV press release.

High-yield orchards

Apples have been falling from the trees since mid-August - including a number of varieties that actually only ripen later. A tree also throws unripe fruit when it is overwhelmed by the amount, they say.

Because of the dry spring, things didn't look good for the fruit harvest at first. The rain in June then supplied the fruit trees with water again. At the end of July, fruit juice manufacturers were already expecting a harvest yield of around 850,000 tons of orchards.

Triggered by phytohormones, crop fluctuations - the so-called natural alternation - can be observed in fruit trees every two years: one year the trees can hardly bear the abundance of fruit, the next year there is hardly an apple hanging on the branch.

After a weak harvest in 2019, with only around 200,000 tons, this year a slightly larger harvest of 850,000 tons. However, this is still well below the record year of 2018 with 1.1 million tons of apples. There are also regional differences in fruit growing. In the south of Germany, where around half of the nationwide orchard population is located, the harvest is relatively high.

Because of the low rainfall in eastern Germany, the harvest there is likely to be lower. Because of the higher producer prices, the proportion of organic produce has risen to more than half in some orchards, it is said, so that the acidic conventional goods are becoming scarce.

If you believe the World Association for Apples and Pears (WAPA), the amount produced in the EU from professional cultivation was 10.71 million tons - around 72,000 tons less than in the weak previous year. Although a higher picking result was expected in many regions, spring frosts have again damaged the yield in some regions, explain the market experts.

In contrast, pears score with an EU-wide production increase of 12 percent compared to the previous year to 2.20 million tons. Italy in particular has the lion's share of EU pear production with 279,000 tons of pears. For Germany, a picking result of 43,000 tons is expected, around 1,000 tons more than last year.

Concern about harvest workers because of corona measures

Meanwhile, apple farmers on Lake Constance are concerned that enough harvest workers will be allowed to come from Poland and Romania. What if the "second wave" comes? Seasonal workers are tested for Covid-19 in Lindau after entering the country.

They are only allowed to work when the result is available. If the test results are a long time coming, you have to watch the apples, which are ripe earlier than usual this year, fall from the trees, complains Martin Nüberlin of the Lindau fruit growers' association.

In order to prevent infections as much as possible, only smaller harvest groups are allowed to work together. Disinfectants must also be available. The Stuttgart Ministry of Economics demands that the employer draw up a "risk assessment". Despite the seriousness of the situation, one must also remain optimistic.

"As long as we can implement regional production here, that's the best we can do," explains an apple farmer from Frickingen. People are also relatively optimistic in the fruit-growing area in the Altes Land on the Lower Elbe. Most of the harvest workers here come from Poland. You have experience with this year's harvest of strawberries and asparagus and are already used to restrictions caused by the virus. (Susanne Aigner)

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