WHEAT FOCUS: Positive future for grains?

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Related tags: Cereal

Higher world populations and changes in dietary patterns - notably
in emerging economies - are leading to a steady increase in food
demand which will have a positive impact on world grain prices,
says a grains analyst this week.

Dr Andree Defois from Strategy Grains in France told a conference organised by the Irish food development authority Teagasc in Ireland this week that severe yield reductions in the main exporting countries led to an increase in world and Irish grain prices, particularly last year.

She said that world prices, having bottomed out at the turn of the century, are projected to display a slow and moderate recovery over the medium term as supply adjusts and global demand strengthens.

But with global supplies for wheat currently unable to meet demand against the backdrop of 30 year low stocks, and a food industry suffering from accompanying price rises, her predictions seem optimistic. A bountiful harvest in 2004 could save the day, but there are no guarantees.

"World factors, such as the 3 per cent reduction in the US wheat area in 2004 and the fact that Chinese grain stocks are currently being significantly reduced, point to tight grain stocks which strengthen wheat prices. However grain production in the former Soviet Union is set to recover somewhat in 2004,"​ said Dr Defois. Critics would disagree here, suggesting that the Ukraine and Russia both pulled in a yield far below estimates in 2003, and there are no guarantees that this will not be repeated in 2004.

Still optimistic, Dr Defois added : "However, while the coming price trend is on the upside compared to the average of the 1990s, it does not mean that prices will remain as high as they are at present."

At the same conference Dr Eugene O'Sullivan of the Teagasc Tillage Research Centre provided details of a nationwide Teagasc survey of cereal disease resistance to new fungicides, called strobilurins. He stated that over 95 per cent of crops sampled last year showed resistance of the wheat disease, Septoria, to the new fungicides. Resistance levels ranged from 9 per cent to 84 per cent, with an average of 48 per cent.

Septoria, which is more commonly known as leaf blotch‚ is a serious wheat disease in Ireland with the potential to cause massive reductions in yield - an occurrence the farmers and food industry can not afford to happen.

"The emergence of resistance to what were regarded as the Œdream‚ chemicals is now a major challenge for researchers and the international plant protection industry,"​ said Dr O'Sullivan.

Dr Brendan Dunne of Teagasc Oak Park said that alternative control procedures using the older fungicides must be used this season in order to control this serious disease. "A weakening in the effectiveness of these fungicides against the major diseases would have serious implications for cereal growing in Ireland,"​ he warned.

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