WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Wheat production in Bulgaria reached a new record in the 2016-17 market year behind higher yields, favorable weather and a shift in the use of imported genetics, according to a Nov. 14 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).

The FAS forecast wheat production for 2016-17 at 5.65 million tonnes, up nearly 13% from 5.011 million tonnes in 2015-16, and compared with 5.347 million tonnes in 2014-15.

One of the most important trends in 2016-17 wheat production was the considerable shift in use of imported genetics, the FAS noted in the report. Indications are the trend — which began about two years ago — has quickly expanded.

“Farmers report that over 75% of wheat grown in the country today comes from imported genetics, mainly French and Austrian varieties,” the FAS said. “Reportedly, these varieties are higher yielding and more resistant to diseases, and in most cases the quality is very good. The shift in genetics is the major driver of exceptional yields this year exceeding 5.0 MT/HA (5.03 MT/HA) compared to 4.53 MT/HA in market year 2015-16.”

The FAS also noted that increasing land rents, inputs and production costs are combining with depressed commodity prices to pressure farmers to look for maximum wheat yields. As a result, farmers in Bulgaria have indicated that the break-even average yield is on the rise and now sits at about 4.5 to 5 tonnes per hectare, with farmers not meeting those yields producing at a loss. But the FAS noted that some farmers claim that higher yields are not necessarily leading to better quality.

“The abundance of feed wheat on the market depresses local market prices and conversely creates a premium for milling wheat,” the FAS noted. “Such premiums for quality wheat have not been typical for the local market and this is the first year when some mills and foreign buyers (mainly from Greece and Spain) are ready to offer substantial bonuses for higher protein wheat. As a result, select leading farmers report to be currently in process of contracting production of high protein wheat (also from imported genetics) for the next marketing year.”

Indications are that 43.6% of Bulgaria’s 2016 wheat crop is of milling quality, which compares with 32.2% in 2015, the report noted.

The FAS also revised its estimates for harvested area, yields and production of corn in Bulgaria due to summer heat and dryness. Current corn harvest area estimates were lowered to 420,000 hectares to 430,000 hectares due to heavy yield loss in some regions that may leave some area unharvested, the FAS said.

“It is possible for this estimate to be reduced further due to a new trend for harvesting grain corn for silage or biomass for biogas use,” the FAS said. “During FAS/Sofia crop travel, several farmers reported that due to declining yields and depressed corn prices, it becomes more profitable to harvest grain corn as biomass and sell it to biogas/green energy producers.”

Production of corn for the 2016-17 market year was forecast at 2.3 million tonnes, down from 2.696 million tonnes in 2015-16 and compared with 3.137 million tonnes in 2014-15.