Demand for biofuel lifts grain acreage

Greece’s 2007 grain production acreage has increased by 20 percent mainly because of greater demand for biofuel, a Greek farmers’ union said yesterday. But the harvest could be hit by a months-long drought that could shrink overall tonnage, a union official said. In 2006 durum wheat was planted on about 1.2 million acres (480,000 hectares), soft wheat on 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares) and maize on about 450,000 acres (180,000 hectares), Agricultural Development Ministry data showed. «For durum wheat, soft wheat and maize preliminary figures show that we have a rise of as much as 20 percent,» General Confederation of Greek Agrarian Cooperatives (GESASE) board member Charalambos Orfanidis told Reuters in an interview. «The rise is mainly because of a trend, not only in Greece, to produce lower-quality grains that are sold easily to biofuel producers, while higher-quality grains are left unsold in storage rooms,» Orfanidis, himself a major grains producer, said. He said final acreage figures would be available in a few months. Drought fears Orfanidis said that while acreage was on the rise after a drop in 2006, production could be adversely affected by a drought. It has not rained significantly since October and Greece’s weather services this week said January rain levels were the lowest in half a century. «We have a bigger area to harvest but the situation up to now is disappointing. The signs are not good,» Orfanidis said. He said it was still too early to predict how the June-August grains harvest would fare. But he estimated that if the drought persisted well into spring, it could affect production severely. «The messages we receive from farmers are ominous,» he said. Especially in the province of Western Macedonia, which produces more than 50 percent of Greece’s overall soft wheat output, rain was an immediate necessity, he said. «It has not rained there for months apart from a few days a couple of weeks ago, and if it persists it could spell disaster for the whole crop,» Orfanidis said. Durum wheat is produced further south as it needs a milder Mediterranean climate and while unusually warm temperatures have been good for the crop, the lack of rain could cancel out the advantage. «It is a case where farmers could lose their whole income and not just need a compensation for a reduced crop as is the norm,» Orfanidis said.