According to the International Grains Council’s (IGC) forecast, total Italian grains production in 2018-19 will be 15.7 million tonnes, up from 14.7 million tonnes in 2017-18. Wheat production is forecast at 7.9 million tonnes, up from 7 million in 2017-18, with the IGC noting that rains had improved the outlook in previously dry areas, while corn production is set to rise to 6.3 million tonnes from 6 million. Sorghum production is forecast at 300,000 tonnes in 2018-19, up from 200,000 the previous year. Durum wheat production, which is also included in the wheat total, in 2018-19 is forecast at 4.5 million tonnes, compared with 4.2 million the year before.
The European grain sector organization COCERAL forecasts Italy’s 2018 production of oilseeds at 1.536 million tonnes, up from 1.397 million in 2017. Soybeans dominate with 2018 production forecast at 1.258 million tonnes, up from 1.140 million the year before. Rapeseed production in 2018 is forecast at 24,000 tonnes, down from 25,000 the year before and sunflower seed production is forecast at 22,000 tonnes, up from 19,500 the prior year.
An annual attaché report on the rice sector, published in May 2017, notes that Italy is the largest rice producer in the E.U. “According to the latest figures from the Italian Rice Association (Enterisi), Italy’s …2016-17 rice area is expected at 234,134 hectares (ha), 3% more than 2015-16, driven by the higher profitability of the sector compared to corn and soybeans.”
The report adds that Italy’s 2016-17 rough rice production was expected at 1.5 tonnes, 6.3% up on 2015-16, “thanks to favorable weather during summer and improved yields.”
The report explains that rice cultivation is mostly located in Northern Italy (Piemonte, Lombardia, and Veneto regions) where water is relatively abundant and the rice crop can be raised in flooded fields. According to the attaché, around 84% of the rice grown in Italy is Japonica, while the rest is Indica.
“Except for rough (unmilled) rice exports and domestic seed sales, virtually all Italian rice is marketed as a whole-kernel milled product,” the report said.
Increasing rice imports from Cambodia, Myanmar, Guyana, and Surinam with duty-free market access under ‘Everything But Arms’ (EBA) agreements is blamed for the decrease in the Indica area and the fall “is likely to be offset by the increased area expected for the round grain Japonica variety.”
According to the Italian milling sector organization ITALMOPA, which quotes 2016 statistics, there are 358 mills in Italy, using 11.031 million tonnes of wheat a year to produce 7.751 million tonnes of flour. Of that, 5.413 million tonnes of common wheat went to produce 4.006 million tonnes of flour and 5.618 million tonnes of durum wheat went to produce 3.745 million tonnes of durum flour. The country imports some 60% of its wheat needs, with Infofarine citing France, Germany, Austria and Hungary as major suppliers in the E.U., as well as the United States and Canada outside.
Referring to common wheat flour mills alone, the industry’s Infofarine website describes the long-term consolidation of the industry, with 821 mills in 1990, 356 in 2000 and 259 in 2010. By 2014 there were 233 mills with a capacity of over 10 tonnes a day, with a national daily capacity of 28,144 tonnes. There are 131 mills in the north of the country, 68 in the center and 34 in the south. By region, there are 41 in Piedmont, 37 in Emilia Romagna, 26 in Veneto and 20 in Lombardy and Marche.
Italy’s 4-million-tonne annual common wheat flour production makes it the third largest producer in the European Union, after Germany and France.
Infofarine puts the average annual production per mill in Italy at around 16,500 tonnes, which it points out is well below the average in the United Kingdom, which it puts at around 73,250 tonnes, Germany at around 22,250 tonnes and Spain at around 20,000, but greater than in France at around 9,950 tonnes and Poland around 7,250 tonnes.
Imports of flour into Italy are insignificant at less than 0.1% of its own production.
Hostility of biotech
An attaché report on the biotech sector in Italy notes that “the country depends on imported biotech commodities, mainly soybeans, as feed for its dairy and livestock industries.”
“However, the general attitude toward genetically engineered (GE) crops remains hostile,” the report noted. “The national media debate on GE crops and plant experimentation has made it politically unpalatable to support GE research and cultivation.”
That meant that “public and private research funding on agro-biotechnology has gradually been cut to zero and currently no GE field trials are being conducted in Italy.”
“Further acceptance of GE crops may center on how to respond to the misinformation circulating about health and environmental risks, in addition to having a candid discussion with the agricultural community about the costs of Italy’s anti biotech policies,” the attaché report said. “The rising cost of feed materials and a greater understanding of just how prevalent consumption is of products that already rely on GE inputs may become a critical factor.”
There are signs that Italy may be ready to accept other types of new breeding techniques.
“In February 2016, Italy’s Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina made a distinction between innovative biotechnologies and ‘GMOs’ (genetically modified organisms),” the attaché said. “He advocated for innovation involving cisgenesis and gene-editing, but not transgenic modification.”
In a December 2015 report, the attaché put Italy’s ethanol output at approximately 215,000 tonnes a year. The raw materials for most of it are corn and wheat as well as wine byproducts.
“However, only a limited portion of the total output is fuel ethanol, while the remainder is destined to industrial chemicals,” the report said.
The same report put biodiesel capacity at around 2 million tonnes.
“Biodiesel in Italy is produced mainly from imported rapeseed (40%), soybeans (30%), and palm oil (25%),” the report said. “The remainder is made of recycled vegetable oils, sunflower oil, and animal fats.”
A further attaché report in June 2017, covering the E.U. as a whole, forecast Italian fuel ethanol consumption in 2018 at 285,000 tonnes. Italian output of traditional biodiesel in 2018 was forecast at 570 million liters, down from 625 million the year before, with hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) capacity rising to 1.090 billion liters in 2018, from forecast production of 323 million the year before.
Italy is pushing to develop advanced biofuels and in March, the European Commission approved a €4.7 million support scheme for advanced biomethane and biofuels in Italy, which, according to the EC, “supports the production and distribution of advanced biofuels and advanced biomethane.”