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Drought damages European wheat crops
SOFIA , Persistent drought in central and eastern Europe has hit wheat crops this year, triggering fears of shortfalls that may prompt imports in 2003-04, analysts and traders said on Friday.
Scorching, dry weather is seen slashing Romania's and Serbia's 2003 wheat output to 50-year lows and cutting Bulgaria's crop by nearly 40 percent from last year.
The plunge in production could force the three impoverished Balkan countries to import wheat in 2003-04 and dip into state reserves to counter deficits, analysts said.
Drought is also damaging yields in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but that is unlikely to create deficits.
On Thursday the International Grains Council (IGC) reduced its forecast for world wheat production in 2003-04, blaming bad weather for lower output mainly in Eastern Europe.
"We are aware of the problem which extends from Ukraine right even into France. We have had to reduce our estimates for this year's wheat crop," Richard Woodhams, the IGC's assistant executive director, told Reuters.
"Very few of these (east European) countries will be exporting, some will be importing more than usually," he said.
Analysts said the drought might turn traditional grain exporters Romania and Bulgaria into importers.
The farm ministry in Bucharest has forecast this year's wheat crop at about 2.5-2.6 million tonnes, down from last year's drought-hit 4.38 million tonnes. Romania produced seven million tonnes of wheat in 2001.
Traders said Romania would have to import 1.5 million tonnes of high quality milling wheat in 2003/04 to meet domestic needs. Russian and Hungarian wheat could be among the likely suppliers, they said.
Millers and bakers have urged the Romanian government to scrap wheat import duties to avoid a rise in bread prices.
Across the Danube, Bulgaria'sfears that a possible wheat deficit might push up politically sensitive bread prices ahead of local elections later this year.
It is considering selling cheap grain from its reserves and halting exports. Traders and officials forecast Bulgaria's wheat crop at less than 2.5 million tonnes this year, from 3.6 million last year, which allowed for substantial exports to Western Europe. Annual domestic needs total 2.2 million tonnes.
Wheat output in Serbia is also seen falling below the country's annual needs. The Agriculture Ministry has forecast the 2003/04-wheat crop at 1.4 million tonnes, compared with 2.25 million in 2002/03, when Serbia exported 650,000 tonnes.
"This harvest could meet our needs only if we do not export anything and if the standard of living suddenly increases so that our people start to consume more meat and vegetables than bread," said Milan Prostrate of the Serbia Chamber of Commerce.
Industry analysts expect the Serbia harvest to fall to around 1.3 million tonnes.
Central European countries also see unfavourable weather damaging 2003 wheat output but do not expect imports.
"Drought is expected to reduce Hungary's wheat crop by around 500,000-800,000 tonnes," said Endre Civics at trading company Agrimpex.
"However, it doesn't mean Hungary will need to import wheat, as domestic demand's around 2.8 million tonnes and the total crop should now be at least 3.0 million tonnes," he added.
Hungary's Grains Association has said it expects this year's wheat crop at about 3.2 million tonnes, enough to cover domestic needs and allow for 400,000 tonnes of exports.
The Czech Republic also sees its domestic wheat consumption covered in 2003/04. The IGC forecast a drop in Czech wheat output to 3.7 million tonnes from 3.9 million in 2002/03.
"This year's results look really bad, winter wheat has been partially hit by frosts and summer drought did not help either," Czech farm ministry spokesperson Martin Severe said.
"But we have sufficient stock reserves so there is no deficiency threat." Drought could slightly reduce Poland's grain output to 25.4-26 million tonnes, from 26.8 million last years, said the Polish Grain Traders and Producers Chamber.
Slovakia's statistics office forecast a small fall in this year's wheat output to 2.232 million tonnes from 2.438 million, but farmers said the drought could cause bigger losses.
MGR Archive 7.7.2003
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