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Wheat is seen in a field during harvest in Maennolsheim, near Strasbourg, France. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo

Poor French wheat yields to dent EU crop as rain hampers harvest

PARIS - The smallest French wheat harvest in at least a decade is set to push European Union production down sharply from last year's record, while persistent rain is also raising the risk of lower quality in some major wheat belts, analysts and traders said.

Rain delays mean it is still too early to call the overall size and quality of the EU crop. But the plunge in French output should leave EU soft wheat output well shy of last year's record 151 million metric tons, despite bumper yields in eastern states such as Romania and Bulgaria.

"When you look at the EU harvest, volumes are going to be most affected in the west," Pierre Begoc of consultancy Agritel said. "In France, the situation has continued to deteriorate."

Plummeting yields in France, by far the EU's biggest wheat producer and exporter, have led to a growing consensus that soft wheat output will only reach 28-30 million metric tons, the lowest since at least 2003 and down more than a quarter from last year's record.

Repeated rainfall has held up harvesting northern France but poor initial yields there have contributed to further downward revisions. Consultancy ODA Groupe this week cut its estimate by 2.2 million metric tons to 28.2 million, a 28-year low.

In late spring, torrential rain, unusually low sunshine levels and widespread plant disease hampered growth of wheat grains and led to low readings for specific weights, a measure of the milling quality of wheat, analysts say.

In Germany, winter wheat yields could fall 10 to 20 percent from last year, although rain delays meant only one third of the crop had been gathered so far, the Association of German Farmers said on Wednesday.

"The repeated harvest interruptions means that such a small area has been gathered that no serious estimates can be made of the national yield," an association spokeswoman said.

As in Germany, rain was raising concerns about quality downgrades to wheat crops in Poland.

"Based on early reports, it is likely that the share of milling wheat in total wheat output will be smaller than last year. Expected unstable weather in the next two weeks may further deteriorate grain quality parameters," said Wojtek Sabaranski of analysts Sparks Polska.

Sparks Polska forecasts Poland's wheat crop at 10.7 million metric tons, down 10 percent from 2015.

Britain is expected to see a sharp fall in wheat production due to adverse weather and a smaller area, although harvesting was only just getting underway.

"After a wet spring leading to high disease pressure and a lack of sunshine in June followed by a flash heatwave mid-July, UK crops suffered greatly in the most critical grain filling stages," analysts CRM AgriCommodities said this week.

CRM AgriCommodities is forecasting a UK wheat crop of between 14.5 and 14.7 million metric tons, down from last season's 16.4 million.

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