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Transition to more sustainable production systems to reduce EU’s cereal production

07 January 20223 min reading

The total EU cereal area is projected to decrease to 51.2 million hectares (ha) between 2021 and 2031, driven by a decrease in the main cereals areas. This will translate to cereal production of 276 million tonnes in 2031 (-2.5% compared to 2021). These are just a few of the projections from the European Union agricultural outlook for 2021-31 report published on 9 December 2021 by the European Commission.

The expected reduction in the size of EU cereal area (-2.8% compared to 2021) combined with a decrease in yields could cause cereal production to fall to 276 million t in 2031 (-2.5% compared to 2021). The area used to produce cereals other than wheat, barley and maize (e.g. oats, rye and sorghum) is expected to increase by 1.1% between 2021-2031. This is the result of longer crop rotations and a more diversified crop mix; crop diversification is being used as a way to better control pests and diseases, adapt to climate risks and respond to growing demand for organic products.

At the same time, the barley area is projected to decline (by 7.9% in 2021-2031 compared to 6.3% in 2011-2021). The areas sown with soft wheat and durum wheat could shrink to 21.1 and 2.0 million ha respectively in 2031 (-2.0% and -4.7% compared to 2021), while the total maize area could reach 8.9 million ha (-1.5% compared to 2021).

Yields of wheat and barley are expected to decline slightly, driven by an increase in organic production, reduced variety of plant protection products available, environmental constraints and increased adoption of agro-ecological practices by farmers. Maize yields may still increase due to potential improvements in eastern EU countries. Wheat and barley production would hence decrease to 126.9 and 49.2 million t respectively in 2031 (down 5.3% and 8.9% on 2021 figures) while maize production could remain stable at 68.2 million t.

The surge in fertilisers’ prices may affect farmers’ planting decisions in 2022 and beyond. It may also accelerate the development of precision farming and lead to a more efficient use of nutrients, enabling to produce more with less inputs.

DECLINE IN CEREALS CONSUMPTION DRIVEN BY LOWER DEMAND FOR FEED

EU domestic cereal use is expected to reach 254.8 million t (-2.7% compared to 2021), essentially driven by the decline in feed use. Total cereal use in feed could decrease by 7.8 million t by 2031 (- 4.8% compared to 2021), with barley (-11.6%) and soft wheat (-6.4%) contributing more to this decline than maize (-1.8%). Cereal use in food is projected to increase by 0.2% per year.

On the trade side, the EU is expected to remain competitive but will face strong competition from other key market players, notably from the Black Sea region. This will lead to a reduction in market shares in a growing export market. Imports of maize are due to rebound to 18 million t in 2022 and reach 16.5 million t in 2031 (+4.4% compared to 2021). Tensions on the cereal markets are expected to ease in 2022 and prices will start going down. However, wheat and maize prices are projected to rise again from 2025 to 2031.


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