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France, Germany fret over wheat damage as harvest nears

PARIS - The threat of damage to wheat crops is increasing in parts of the European Union's top two producers, France and Germany, after weeks of wet, overcast weather, but improving conditions elsewhere could keep the EU on course for a decent ha...

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PARIS - The threat of damage to wheat crops is increasing in parts of the European Union's top two producers, France and Germany, after weeks of wet, overcast weather, but improving conditions elsewhere could keep the EU on course for a decent harvest.

France remains the biggest concern amid growing signs of crop disease, and analysts now expect a steep drop from last year's record crop of 41 million metric tons.

Strategie Grains said on Wednesday it had reduced its estimate by 2 million metric tons to 36.5 million, while ODA Groupe lowered its harvest outlook by 1.5 million to 35 million metric tons. Agritel's first estimate this week put the crop at 37.3 million.

Soggy conditions in the wheat plains of northern France have encouraged the spread of fusarium, also known as head blight or scab, that is expected to lower yields.

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"Damage from fusarium is more and more apparent, including in the most northerly zones where wheat is less mature," ODA's Paul Gaffet said.

Doubts over the wheat harvest, expected to get properly under way in mid-July, have intensified after some disappointing yields and quality in the advancing barley harvest.

In quality terms, there was concern disease could lead to lower specific weights, a measure of wheat's suitability for milling, and generate mycotoxins.

In Germany, repeated rain was threatening to curb yields and put a question mark over protein levels before harvesting starts in late July.

"The rain means a noticeable amount of wheat has been knocked over and is lodged. The warm temperatures coupled with moist conditions also mean there is an increased risk of crop disease in some areas," one German analyst said.

However, in contrast to France, risks were greater in southern regions, with crops in more productive export zones in the north less affected.

Germany's Association of German Farmers on Tuesday forecast the winter wheat harvest at 25 million metric tons, down 4.4 percent from last year's bumper crop.

In Britain, the EU's third-largest wheat grower, drier weather has improved the outlook.

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"Confidence in the crop has picked up a little bit because it has stopped raining but farmers would like to see some more sunshine to help build the final bit of yield," said Jack Watts, analyst at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

Yields are likely to be below last season, partly because low wheat prices led farmers to cut the use of inputs.

Some traders expect the crop at 15 to 15.5 million metric tons, down from 16.4 million last year, while the International Grains Council forecasts it would fall to 14.9 million.

Overall EU production, however, should be supported by big crops in Romania and Bulgaria, and Strategie Grains said it plans to raise again its estimates for the countries in a monthly report next week.

Related Topics: CROPSWHEAT
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