Sun-dried French fields cloud farmers' mood

Fri May 20, 2011 4:40am EDT
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By Sybille de La Hamaide

LUMIGNY, France (Reuters) - When French grain farmer Pascal Seingier pulls a wheat stalk from the cracked soil in his field and points to the browned stem and dried-out roots, his face clouds over.

"It's all dry. We have had almost no rain in weeks and it's now clear I will not have the same harvest as usual," he says. "Usually Mother Nature repairs what it has broken but it won't happen this year."

From the road, fields in the grain belt around Paris look green and healthy, but a closer look leaves no doubt.

Drought is biting crops in France, the European Union's top grain grower, a worry which helped fuel a rally in global wheat prices despite a commodity sell-off sparked by economic doubts.

Seingier, 54, who owns 125 hectares some 55 kilometers east of Paris, checks his rain gauge every morning at 8 o'clock and writes the daily rainfall on a piece of paper.

The instrument barely got wet this year, he shows -- only 25 days out of 140, with just 10 millimeters (ml) in April and May.

"Since mid-January the rainfall has been below normal. April was one of the hottest and driest on record and so far in May I have registered only 3 ml of rain," Seingier said at his farm which dates from 1860. "Usually it's 50-60 (ml) a month."

France is by far the EU's largest wheat grower and exporter, and the Ile-de-France region surrounding Paris, where Seingier lives, is among the country's top 10 wheat providers.   Continued...

<p>A French farmer holds dry earth in his hand as a tractor works in a field in Blecourt, northern France, May 12, 2011. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol</p>