Favorable Crop Prospects in Poland and Lithuania
Polish wheat production for 2013/14 is up slightly from last year. Poland is the fourth largest wheat producer in the European Union (EU). Polish corn production is down from last year’s record but is still expected to be a bumper crop. Cold temperatures and rainy conditions in spring delayed crop growth, however large crop losses due to winterkill were not repeated this season. Lithuania wheat production is down from last year’s record production. As of late July, winter barley harvesting is now underway in Poland and wheat production should begin in August.
This report is a summary of crop travel conducted in Poland and Lithuania from June 16 – June 26th 2013 by the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) staff from both Washington, D.C. and Warsaw, Poland.
Weather Summary for the 2013/14 Crop Season
Winter lingered later than normal in Poland and Lithuania during the 2012-13 winter, however the season was not particularly stressful for autumn-sown crops as it was during the 2011-12 winter. Most crops (both spring and winter varieties) were delayed 3 – 4 weeks at the start of spring 2013.
During the previous 2011-12 winter (affecting last year’s harvest of the 2012/13 crop), a period of low temperatures coincided with little or no snowcover during February, resulting in large winter grains and rapeseed loses. For the 2012-13 winter however, little winterkill occurred during the coldest months. When minimum temperatures where threateningly low, snow cover was sufficient for thermal protection, so crops escaped winter largely unscathed.
A very cold March and early April delayed spring green-up of winter crops such as wheat and rapeseed, and delayed planting of spring crops such as barley, corn, and oats. Many areas in Poland were covered in snow until mid-April, which is unusually late.
Conditions warmed-up in mid-April and were near normal in May with near average precipitation levels. At the beginning of June, however heavy rain caused flooding in low-lying areas, particularly along streams. Much of the inundated areas were meadows or marshes, but some fields and marginal cropland areas were also flooded, reducing total winter crop acreage. These fields were largely re-sown to other crops, particularly corn (either for grain or silage). Corn is typically chosen for the replacement crop because it can be sown late and still produce sufficient yields for Polish farmers.
During June, much of Poland saw above average rainfall, including storms with heavy rain and wind. These storms caused a significant amount of lodging, particularly to well-developed rye plants. Rye, one of the first crops planted in autumn, was nearing harvest and was particularly vulnerable due to its tall stems and heavy grain heads.
Despite the difficulties from the late 2013 spring, autumn-sown crops are not expected to have been significantly affected. Crop damage from the heavy rains that fell on Poland, was largely minimized by the timing of the events. Fortunately for farmers, the rain did not occur during the planting or harvesting periods, when greater problems would have arisen. Ultimately, the rain may also prove beneficial for increased weight in grainfill and podfill of autumn crops and enhanced vegetative growth for spring sown crops. Regardless, localized problems from the rain include delayed or missed opportunities for applying inputs, fungus susceptibility, and lodging.
Low precipitation amounts and warmer-than-average temperatures during early and mid- July were beneficial for all crops. The sunny days helped dry fields and crops, helping plants overcome lodging. The dry July has also prevented diseases from developing or spreading after the earlier rainy period had raised concerns.
Poland’s 2013/14 wheat crop is estimated at 9.2 million tons from 2.2 million hectares. Area is up 7 percent from last year (2012/13) when winterkill reduced the harvest area. Production for 2013/14 is estimated to be 0.6 million tons higher than last year. The majority of Polish wheat is comprised of winter wheat varieties with less than 20 percent being spring wheat.
Poland is the fourth largest producer of wheat in the European Union after France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Winter wheat is typically planted in September and the beginning of October, flowering occurs in June, and harvest begins in August. Crop conditions for wheat appeared favorable during field assessment in mid-June. While crop stage was lagging behind normal development, beneficial soil moisture existed and there was a lack of any significant diseases on plants, which had just finished flowering. Wheat Picture #2.
The 2013/14 Polish rapeseed crop is expected to increase 0.3 million tons from last season to 2.2 million with a 0.1 million hectare increase in area to 0.8 million hectares. Rapeseed fields looked to be in good condition as they were beginning pod fill. There was a significant amount of spring-planted rapeseed observed in the colder, northeastern areas of Poland. A direct result of the shortened spring this year was a shortened period of flowering for rapeseed. This contributes to fewer flowers, seed pods, and ultimately lower yields, likely keeping 2013/14 production from bumper levels.
Rapeseed is typically the first crop planted in autumn, with an optimal planting date in late-August. Rapeseed growers emphasized that one of the most damaging scenarios to the crop is when large temperature fluctuations occur during early spring. These large freeze-thaw cycles can easily kill the still tender plants. It was however, extremely low temperatures, accompanied by wind and a lack of snowcover during February 2012 that devastated the crop area of the 2012/13 crop. Rapeseed harvested area in 2012/13 was the lowest since 2006/2007.
USDA estimates 2013/14 corn production in Poland at 3.25 million tons from 0.5 million hectares. Corn area is down 8 percent from last year because of improved over-wintering conditions. Because winter crops survived much better, there was significantly less area re-planted with spring crops, particularly corn, as there was during the previous spring. After the harsh 2011-12 winter, frost damaged winter crops were plowed under, providing additional field area for 2012/13 corn. Corn production for 2013/14 is forecast down 19 percent due to reduced area and a return to normal weather (after last season's near-ideal spring and summer weather).
Corn for grain was produced at a record level in 2012/13 because of record planted area (0.54 million hectares) and good weather. Corn was also in high demand last year because the overall EU corn crop was lowered by both drought and heat damage in the Balkan countries of southeastern Europe. The tight 2012/13 supply raised prices, and these higher prices lingered in farmer’s minds, boosting 2013/14 corn plantings well above trend, but below the 2012/13 record level. Corn production in Poland has rapidly increased since 1998/99 when area was less than 100 thousand hectares. Due to short season varieties and improved technologies – better tractors, drying facilities, hybrids – area last year reached a record 544 thousand hectares and production reached a record 4.0 million tons. Western Poland produces most of the country’s corn for grain. Short-season varieties of corn also give farmers the opportunity to plant even during delays after rain or a cold spring, such as this year.
Considerable barriers exist which prevent small farmers from switching crop rotations and trying new systems which could improve efficiency and utilize new technology. Often the equipment on the farm is not suited for corn production and the transition costs are simply too high for a small farmer. One farmer mentioned that his greatest threat would be from corn-eating wild boars.
Corn for silage is concentrated in Poland’s northern and eastern regions where farms are relatively small and there are a lot of dairy farms. Production of silage corn is estimated to have leveled off while USDA estimates corn for grain continues to rise. The first of three hay cuttings was underway during travel in June. The cuttings had been delayed due to heavy rains. Flooding, which caused the 2013 corn planting to be late, may increase this year’s silage production.
The barley crop is estimated at 3.5 million tons from 1.0 million hectares, down from last year's record 3.62 tons per hectare yield and production of 4.2 million tons, and area of 1.2 million hectares. Polish barley is mostly a spring planted crop. During field observations in mid/late June, barley was doing well, but there were fields with lodging problems.
A “grain” commonly planted on small farms in Poland is “mixed grain.” Mixed grain is used almost exclusively for on-farm consumption. Mixed grain is a combination of grains - usually two or three types - and typically a collection of oats, rye, and triticale, but it can also include wheat or barley. The benefits from growing a field of mixed grains includes reduced costs from using seeds grown on the farm. Also, mixed grains can be used to hedge against bad weather. During a season with unfavorable weather, it is unlikely that an entire mixed-grain field will be destroyed. The different tolerance properties associated with a diversity of grains helps protect the crop from disaster. Poland is rather unique in its large production of mixed grains.
There is no separate USDA category for this crop so it is included with triticale to comprise USDA’s “mixed grains” category. Total mixed grains (mixed grain + triticale) in Poland is estimated at 7.5 million tons from 2.5 million hectares for the 2013/14 crop. The next largest EU producers of mixed grain are France and Germany at 2.5 million tons and 2.4 million tons, respectively.
Rye & Oats
Poland is also the EU’s leading producer of rye and oats. Triticale, oats, and rye are known for their heartiness and ability to survive on more marginal lands. The 2012/13 Polish crop of rye is estimated at 2.8 million tons and the crop of oats is estimated at 1.3 million tons. The best land parcels are typically reserved for wheat or rapeseed, while rye, oats, and mixed grains typically occupy the lowest quality soils. The rye crop was drying down in many areas during mid-June when some of the heavy rains arrived. Rye suffered the greatest from lodging issues. Saturated with moisture, its tall stems and heavy grain heads made the crop "top-heavy" and very susceptible to wind damage.
Infrastructure and Geographic Issues
With a continental climate and sandy soils, central Poland often suffers from dryness problems. Above-average rainfall, which occurred in June 2013, is typically beneficial to crops. The majority of Poland has poor soils, much of it consisting of sandy soils that don’t have a high water-holding capacity. Because of poor soils, and typically harsh, low winter temperatures, triticale (a variety derived from wheat and rye), was developed in Poland and still remains a large component of Poland’s grain assortment.
Larger farms (30 or more hectares) are predominately located in western Poland where previously state-owned farms were run by private entities. Many of these large farms were on German land prior to World War II. After the War, the land was given to Poland in exchange for land taken by the Soviet Union in eastern Poland. The western areas, including the area around the central-west city of Poznan has a strong agricultural tradition with some of the highest production levels in the country.
Buying land continues to be very difficult and frustrating for serious farmers in Poland, Lithuania, and many other European nations. Owners are unwilling to part with land that has an agricultural value. Financial value (including EU subsidies associated with agricultural land), combine with intrinsic emotional values to prevent seemingly rational decisions of consolidating farms into more economically viable entities. These lands continue to be divided and split to heirs. This process prevents the advantages of economies of size from forming. Picture shows the extent to which a small area of land has been divided into at least nine individual parcels, destroying efficiency. This is a very typical scene in many areas of Poland and Lithuania.
Poland ranks as one of the most predominantly agricultural countries within the EU. According to the Statistical Yearbook of Agriculture 2012, published by the Polish Statistics Office (GUS), there are “2.3 million employed persons exclusively or mainly on agricultural holdings.” Poland’s 2012 population is estimated at 38.5 million. Despite the reliance on agriculture, infrastructure such as on-farm storage is not fully developed. The lack of on-farm storage contributes to farmers selling crops at the time of harvest instead of waiting for a higher price.
Wheat production in Lithuania for 2013/14 is estimated at 2.6 million tons, down 18 percent from last year’s record 3.0 million ton crop. The 2013/14 yield is estimated at 3.9 tons per hectare versus the 4.8 tons per hectare record last year. Area is estimated to be 0.65 million hectares, up 4 percent from last year. Wheat production in Lithuania can include up to 30 percent spring-sown varieties. During February 2013 there was a period of two weeks with cold temperatures and no snow cover.
Due to these conditions, up to 8 percent of the rapeseed crop was expected to have been damaged. Wheat production in 2013/14 is expected to fall back from last year’s record crop. During 2012/13, Lithuania had enough surplus that it exported wheat to customers as far away as Iran.
One of the biggest problems affecting farm productivity in Lithuania is the disadvantages of farms and noncontiguous parcels. Farms, often a few hectares size, are often split into small fields scattered throughout the countryside and intermixed among neighbors’ parcels.
Soils in Lithuania are also challenging because of the diversity in texture. Some are composed of sandy soils while others are clay-based. This variance adds difficulty for machinery which also has to be adjusted or re-tooled for the different soil types.
Lithuania Rapeseed Production Chart
Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on IPAD's Agricultural Production page or at PSD Online.