Estonian farmers see poor grain quality and yields this year due to drought

A combine harvester in Estonia.
A combine harvester in Estonia. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Estonian farmers are sending their combine harvesters out into the fields this week. While Estonia's own needs will be met, due to the early-summer drought, the quality of the grain will be lower than usual, while harvesting and drying costs will also be high. Europe's harvest this year, meanwhile, has fallen far below expectations.

Farmers say that this year's drought has meant wheat heads are shorter and contain fewer grains than usual. They add that this year's harvest is rather patchwork, with the ripening of crops uneven. However, grain buyers say there will be no shortage of supply.

"At Tartu Mill, our own demand is 100,000 tonnes a year, which includes both rye and wheat. And, in a good year, Estonia produces 750,000 tonnes of wheat. So, we can get the wheat we need from Estonia every year," Rauno Viljas, purchasing manager at Tartu Mill, told Tuesday's "Aktuaalne kaamera".

It is, however, a question of quality and therefore price. This year, not a lot of good bread wheat can be expected because the wheat has ripened unevenly. In more drought-prone parts of farmers' fields, the grain has been forced to ripen, while in wetter areas it is green or waxy. The combine harvester gathers all of it together.

"You need good quality wheat to make bread. And these quality requirements can only be met if the crop is uniformly ripe," said Kalle Hamburg, head of the Estonian Farmers' Federation ETKL.

Last year's harvest was a fifth higher than the year before, averaging 4.2 tonnes per hectare. However, the situation is more pessimistic for growers than for buyers.

"The harvest is poor, the quality is definitely below average, the drying costs are high and the harvesting costs are high," Hamburg said.

"Compared to last year, we can expect about 20-30 percent lower yields. But nothing really drastic, at least here in South Estonia," said Viljas.

On Monday, Copa-Copega, an umbrella organization of EU farmers, told the European Commission that this year's grain harvest in southern Europe is 60 percent lower than forecast. Yields in Finland, Latvia, Poland, and Bulgaria are also down by between a half and two-thirds, Hamburg said.

What is now in question, is the capacity to prepare for next year. Copa-Copega will most likely ask the European Commission for subsidies, while Hamburg also referred to the additional nitrogen fertilizer tariffs, which EU rules mean are imposed on third countries.

"One mitigating measure would be to relax customs duties. However, this would be something of a gift to (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin," Hamburg said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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