Bulgarian corn crop down by 18% year on year

Severe droughts during spring and summer and significant pest damage contribute to a substantial decline in yields

According to the latest US Department of Agriculture (USDA) GAIN grain and feed market update, Bulgaria is expected to harvest 2.8 million tonnes of corn in the 2022-23 marketing year, a decrease of 18% on the previous year.

This is due to a decline in planted areas, severe drought conditions experienced in the spring and summer, and significant pest damage.

Winter grain conditions fared better due to more favorable weather, with wheat production estimated at 6.3 million tonnes and barley at 640.000 tonnes; still 13% and 10% lower than in the 2021-22 season, respectively.

The 2022-23 wheat harvest was completed at the end of July, although late planting, spring frosts and insufficient rainfall in May negatively affected average yields.

Average yields were estimated at 5.3 tonnes per hectare, and the harvested area was confirmed at 1.2 million hectares, the USDA said.

However, wheat yields varied by region, with the highest yields reported at 9 tonnes per hectare within the north and northeast regions.

The Bulgarian ministry of agriculture recorded harvest production at 6.3 million tonnes, with some private estimates reaching 6.5 million tonnes.

The area harvested remained stable in the 2022-23 season, while production saw a 13% (1 million tonnes) decline since 2021-22.

Generally, wheat prices have been higher in the current marketing year, which has seen farmers reluctant to sell stock in anticipation of higher prices later in the season.

Farmers’ main concerns center around softening prices in the Black Sea region.

While Bulgaria imports small quantities from Ukraine, pressure on the market’s prices caused by the war has caused a decrease in Bulgaria’s own exports, as farmers hold on to stock amid declining prices.

Rising energy costs and fertilizer prices negatively affect production

Inflation, soaring land rent and an increase in production costs also challenge producers who are set to reduce input use in the 2023-24 marketing year, creating uncertainty for future yields.

Many producers have estimated annual expenses to increase by over 50%, with an official inflation rate of 18% as of August.

The highest cost rise was recorded for fertilizers, followed by energy, plant protection chemicals, and seeds.

The barley harvest was also completed at the end of July and saw similar challenges, with the insufficient rainfall in May affecting average yields.

Barley’s yield average was estimated at 5.2 tonnes per hectare, with a harvested area of 124,000 hectares.

According to Eurostat, production was recorded at 636,000 tonnes, with some private estimates ranging between 590,000 and 650,000 tonnes.

A decline of 10% since marketing year 2021-22, following a 7% decrease in yields, and a 2% decrease in harvested area, the USDA said.

The harvesting of corn began earlier this year, and as of September 23 was 42% percent complete, according to Bulgarian agriculture ministry data.

Corn yields to date are at 4.8 tonnes per hectare, and production is at 1.1 million tonnes.

According to authorities, the area planted decreased to 523,000 hectares, 9% smaller than the area planted last season (the largest on record), due to high production costs, especially for fertilizers and energy.

The corn harvest saw an optimistic start due to good rainfall in May and June and cooler temperatures. However, summer heat and drought during July’s most critical growing period severely affected the average yield.

The average yield for the final harvest is estimated to reach 5.3 tonnes per hectare, which is still an 11% decrease from marketing year 2021-22.

Average yield estimates vary widely from 4.8 to 5.9 tonnes per hectare, and production from 2.5 million to 3.1 million tonnes.

Wheat and barley exports

According to the Trade Data Monitor (TDM), wheat exports were increasingly high at 5.9 million tonnes due to strong demand, attractive prices and a bumper crop, especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Exports were destined mainly for Algeria, Spain, Greece, Romania, South Korea, and Tunisia.

Wheat exports in the 2022-23 marketing year, as of the end of September, were reported by the agriculture ministry at 1 million tonnes, of which 881,000 is destined outside the EU.

Export demand has been minimal in comparison to last year and while domestic users offer better prices, most producers are holding their stocks and prefer not to sell.

Barley exports in the 2021-22 marketing year amounted to 443,000 tonnes, a 39% increase on the previous season due to a larger crop and more demand.

Exports were mainly destined for Greece, Israel, Cyprus, and Spain.

In the 2022-23 season, as of the end of September, barley shipments were reported by the agriculture ministry at 338,000 tonnes.

Export demand has generally been weak during the last season.

It is expected that trade will become more active towards the end of October, when there should be a better understanding of the Black Sea situation and more information about crops and potential shipments from Russia and Ukraine.

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