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Federal Ministry of Agriculture presents the 2015 Harvest Report

Schmidt: "German farmers have generated average yields on the whole"

The German cereal and rapeseed harvest has generated average yields this year. This is demonstrated by the current harvest statement of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

Behind these figures, however, are an unusually broad range of crop yields which vary greatly depending on location. The assessment of the average figures by Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture Christian Schmidt reflects a number of different aspects. "Compared to the record figures achieved for the previous year, it is clear that yields are much lower in most cases. Nevertheless, they are still slightly higher than the multi-year average for the period 2009-2014. Among the most important crops in particular, such as winter wheat and winter barley, the yields are well above previous estimates." However, Federal Minister Schmidt also addressed the issue of those farms that have suffered poor harvests. "Despite the average figures, there are farms which have suffered from much lower crop yields as a result of the drought which to some extent lasted into the summer", said Schmidt.

The most important harvest details are set out below:

Including grain maize, the German grain harvest will reach a value of approximately 48.2 million tonnes. This way, the multi-year average (2009-2014: 46.8 million tonnes) is exceeded slightly (+3.0 percent). This is the provisional result of the "specific determination of crop and quality – BEE" on the basis of representative yield measurements. Cereals for grain production were grown on a total of 6.54 million hectares, a slightly larger area than in the previous year. Cereal yields per hectare have been average in the 2015 crop year. If all cereals are taken together, the yield per hectare amounts to 73.7 quintals based on the measurements available to date, a figure which is 8.4 percent down on the previous year. The multi-year average (71.2 quintals per hectare) is exceeded by 3.6 percent.

Across much of Germany, the 2014/15 growing season was initially characterised by an overly warm and dry autumn and a mild winter, with winter dormancy setting in late. As in the previous year, spring 2015 was too warm, with plenty of sunshine; most notably, it was also too dry. However, there were still a few nights in April and May when there was a ground frost. Unlike in the previous year, this prevented any large-scale early development of crops. Other features of the growing season included the increase in extreme weather events in the form of a widespread and long dry period, frequent hot spells accompanied by record temperatures, but also regional trends towards severe weather with the potential in some cases to cause substantial damage.

The winter barley harvest began early this year, even starting in some regions at the end of June. As far as other, later-ripening cereal crops are concerned, the harvest generally began much earlier in the south than in northern Germany, where temperatures in July were more bearable and recorded rainfall levels were also higher. Although rain interrupted the harvest in many regions, it was nevertheless possible to harvest the crops dry.

Wheat is the most important cereal crop in Germany, with a harvest of 26.4 million tonnes, 5 percent less than in the previous year. Winter wheat, which also has the highest yield potential among cereal crops apart from grain maize, accounts for 98 percent of this quantity. A nationwide average yield per hectare of 81 quintals will be achieved this year for winter wheat. As in previous years, yields in northern Germany are much higher still, albeit slightly lower on light soils such as in Brandenburg or locations particularly affected by drought.

At 3.35 million tonnes, the rye harvest for 2015 was much smaller than in the previous year (-13 percent). Farmers cut back slightly on growing the crop and yields fell a long way short of the very good returns per hectare achieved last year. Less than a million tonnes of rye are required in Germany for food production. As a result, relatively large quantities are available for other uses and for export.

Yields of winter barley, the cereal crop which ripens earliest, amounted to 76.9 quintals per hectare, thereby almost matching the figure from the previous year. Over a slightly larger cultivated area, the winter barley harvest of 9.7 million tonnes was much greater than in recent years (+15.2 percent compared to the multi-year average). At 55 quintals per hectare, the summer barley yield was the most pleasing. Around 2.03 million tonnes of summer barley, the majority of which is used for the production of brewing malt, were harvested from a slightly larger cultivated area.

Moderate oat yields reflected the lowest recorded oat harvest to date, of just 582,000 tonnes. For grain maize, 2015 has been a problematic year. In many places, its development suffered considerably as a result of the dry weather. Given the fact that it is harvested later, any estimate of the harvest at present is only possible to a limited degree.

The quality of the 2015 cereal harvest has been very satisfactory. On average, the protein content of wheat is slightly higher than in the previous year. The baking qualities of the rye harvest range from good to excellent.

In terms of pricing, the developments on worldwide markets are of considerable importance. For the EU-28, the European Commission expects a crop volume which is lower than in the previous year, yet slightly above the multi-year average. Currently, the global cereal markets are relatively well supplied even though worldwide crop volumes of wheat and maize have not quite matched the record levels of the previous year. The relatively abundant market supply also had an influence on the price trend on international markets. The FAO Cereal Price Index on international markets recorded its lowest level in five years in May 2015, before recovering slightly. The fall in the value of the euro against the US dollar during the last campaign helped to make German exports more competitive and also impacted positively on prices on the domestic market. Within a certain range, producer prices in Germany are roughly at the comparable level of the previous year, with feed wheat faring most favourably year-on-year at +7 percent.

Winter rape is Germany’s most important oil-bearing crop, yet a reduced area size and adverse weather conditions have resulted in a small harvest. Pest infestation might also have been a factor in this. At just under 5.0 million tonnes, the crop volume is 20.0 percent down on the 2014 harvest, and 8.2 percent below the multi-year average. Compared over the same time period of several years, the oil contents of the rape samples tested to date as part of the BEE have been relatively high.

Other crops

Weather conditions caused stocks of potatoes to develop more slowly than in 2014. Whereas the plants initially benefited from moisture stored in the ground from the winter, the widespread drought prevented stocks from developing further. As a result, watering began early, in particular at those locations situated on light and sandy soil. Since there was also a sharp reduction in the size of cultivation areas, this year’s potato harvest is expected to be an average one at best.

Following the good harvest of the previous year and with a view to complying with supply quotas, the cultivation area for sugar beet was greatly reduced in 2015. Moreover, a lower sugar yield per hectare is expected this year on account of the adverse weather conditions. Total sugar production will therefore be much lower this year than in the previous year.

Weather conditions meant that the start of the season for fruit and vegetable crops was not as early as in the previous year. Increased levels of irrigation were required due to the widespread and long-lasting drought, sometimes leading to impairments in terms of both quantity and quality. The yields from fruit trees – apples, cherries and plums – are, without exception, down on the previous year. The decrease in yield compared to the record harvest of 2014, due to biennial bearing, is particularly sharp among apples, both in commercial fruit farming and on scattered orchards. The drought also proved troublesome for strawberry growing. The weather caused the fruit to be smaller than usual in many cases, but instead made them very aromatic. A preliminary study shows the yield for open field strawberries to have fallen compared to the figure for the previous year, yet above the multi-year average.

There was no repeat this year of the exceptionally good conditions for asparagus growing. Despite the continued expansion of cultivation areas, the crop volume will fall short of last year’s harvest according to estimates from the Federal Statistical Office. The reasons for this are the shorter harvest period and the regional drought suffered during the harvest. Nevertheless, the crop volume remains above the multi-year average.

Drought stress was also apparent at times as far as wine was concerned. However, as deep-rooting crops, vines are able to cope with a shortage of water better than other crops. The crop volume will depend on the weather conditions over the next few weeks, until the start of the main harvest. As things stand, the chances of 2015 being an excellent vintage are considered to be good.

The uneven distribution of rainfall had a serious impact on fodder crops in particular. In some cases, there were considerable differences recorded even in a relatively small area. This year too, there are farms with normal or even above-average fodder harvests, especially in the north and in the very south of the country. However, ensuring that there is an adequate supply of basic feed for the winter is a major challenge for many farms as the yields from grassland and from silage maize cultivation were only moderate in many places and, in some instances, the entire crop failed. To help these farms, an exception was granted allowing crops growing on uncultivated areas of land set aside for environmental purposes to be used in animal feeding.

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