September 20, 2019 / 1:29 PM / a month ago

Dry weather a worry as EU sugar beet harvest starts

HAMBURG, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Dry weather in some major European Union sugar-producing regions is causing concern as beet harvesting starts, experts said on Friday.

A combination of low prices and restrictions on insecticide use has turned some farmers away from sugar.

EU refined sugar output in the season now starting could fall 3.6% on the year to 17.7 million tonnes, said Timothe Masson, economist at French sugar growers’ group CGB.

Global sugar prices hit their lowest in 10 years in late 2018 amid heavy world oversupply, and have only stabilised at depressed levels in this year.

EU market liberalisation means European producers are no longer protected from world price falls and several European sugar refiners have announced capacity cuts.

In the EU’s largest producer, France, the beet harvest that started last week will likely fall to 37.7 million tonnes from 39.9 million tonnes in the previous season, below the five-year average, the CGB estimates

Severe summer weather, with prolonged hot and dry spells, is expected to have damaged yields, it said.

“The low yields are due to a lack of water at crucial moments for the plant,” said Masson.

French farmers planted 451,000 hectares, down from 480,000 hectares last year, the CGB said.

In the second largest producer Germany, farmers have cut sugar beet plantings by about 15,000 hectares from last season to 375,300 hectares, German sugar industry association WVZ estimates.

German farmers are suffering from bans on pesticides which have not been imposed by other European Union countries, said WVZ Chief Executive Guenter Tissen.

Other EU states also continued to give financial support to sugar beet farmers, which distorted competition.

In the new season, 26.19 million tonnes of beets are expected to be harvested, up from 24.64 million tonnes last season when Germany’s sugar harvest suffered from a serious drought and heatwave.

Dryness is a worry in Poland, said Rafal Strachota, director of Polish sugar beet growers’ association KZPBC.

Polish farmers have planted about 240,000 hectares, little changed from the last season, but only 13.7 million tonnes of beet are likely to be harvested against 14.3 million a year before, he said.

“Drought in Poland for the second year in a row negatively affected sugar beet yields,” Strachota said. “This year, we anticipate an even lower average yield than last year, which should amount to 57 tonnes a hectare, 13% less than the average for the last five years.”

The first sugar factories began processing beets in Poland on Aug. 31.

In Britain this season’s campaign got underway on Tuesday with the first beet deliveries to two of British Sugar’s four factories. All four will be open for deliveries by Oct. 1.

Sugar production is expected to be higher than the prior season with an improvement in yields offsetting a reduction in planted area, British Sugar’s parent Associated British Foods said. (Reporting by Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris and Nigel Hunt in London; Editing by Jan Harvey)

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