Romania’s exports hit by drought

BUCHAREST – Dry weather has damaged Romania’s wheat crop but the 2001 reserves will be enough to meet local demand and provide an exportable surplus, officials said yesterday. «Drought has damaged large wheat areas… we expect a total output of 4.9 million tons this year, some two million tons less than anticipated,» Agriculture Ministry Director General Vasile Bacila told Reuters in an interview. The ministry had previously forecast in February a 2002 wheat crop of 6.7 million tons. Of the total 2.28 million hectares planted to wheat, some 1.37 million hectares, mainly in the fertile southern plains, had been harmed by the long dry spell of recent weeks, officials said. Average yield was seen at 2,155 kg per hectare, down from some 3,100 kg last year, when Romania harvested 7.83 million tons of wheat. «The situation here is terrible,» Constantin Tache, head of a large farming association in Romania’s southern county of Dolj, said from the county’s capital Craiova, 200 km (125 miles) southwest of Bucharest. Bacila said that despite the damage caused by the drought, the 2002 wheat harvest and reserves of some 2.3 million tons would be enough to cover Romania’s local consumption, seen at 3.55 million tons as well as allow for exports. Farm analyst Ilie Stefan said price instability remained a major disincentive to many farmers. «Costs to put a hectare under wheat are huge, some 12 million lei ($358). By the end of the day, the average of 2,800-3,000 lei (10 cents) a kilogram is hardly a stimulus,» he said. Traders in the Black Sea port of Constanta, the main gate for Romania’s exports, said activity at silos was «dead.» «Absolutely nothing has happened here over the past two months,» one trader with a major Western company operating in Romania said from the port, adding that only one ship had called at the grain terminal in recent weeks to load 18,000 tons of maize. The main destinations for Romania’s grain exports, mainly feed wheat, were the Middle East and the Mediterranean countries of Italy, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Algeria and Israel. «I’m not aware yet of any pre-contracts for the 2002 wheat,» another trader in the port said.