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Weekend rain not enough to help parched EU wheat

Hamburg, April 26, 2011

Easter rain in parts of west Europe was not enough to significantly help parched wheat crops in key producers France and Germany, and fears of crop damage are growing, analysts and traders said on Tuesday.

Weather forecasts for both countries are for only scattered rain this week. Dryness could start to cut wheat yields in the 2011 harvest in France and Germany, analysts said. Concern is also growing in Britain, but the outlook in Italy and Spain is better.

'The forecasts for France and Germany are not for the big washing of rain that plants need, and fears of damage are now intensifying each day,' one trader said.

EU wheat prices have risen in the past week on worry that an exceptionally dry April will stress wheat plants already struggling after an exceptionally cold winter.

In France, the EU's largest wheat producer, weekend storms offered little relief to parched wheat plants whose yield potential has now been cut, especially in areas with light soil, analysts said.

'There are already losses in terms of yield potential,' said Cedric Weber, an analyst with French grains consultancy Offre & Demande Agricole (ODA).

'We can already rule out the possibility of a very good yield. We are on course for an average to poor yield.'

France's 2010 wheat crop was 35.6 million tonnes, based on a national yield of 7.24 tonnes a hectare, a yield 3.6 per cent above the average for 2006-10, the farm ministry estimates.

Storms brought some showers in France over the weekend, but analysts said they were too localised and brief to help dried-out soil.

'The benefits of this kind of rain are very, very minor,' Weber said.

Grain belts in the northern half of France have had months of below-average rainfall capped by hot, dry weather during April. Little rain was expected this week, although temperatures were due to fall after summer-like heat in the past few days.

'It's not so much the high temperatures but the insufficient water levels in the major grain regions that are worrying us,' Jean-Paul Borde of French grains institute Arvalis said.

Local authorities in some parts of France have already restricted irrigation of crops in response to low levels of water reserves.

Only light rain is forecast in France this week, mostly from Thursday.

Second-largest EU wheat producer Germany had a dry, hot Easter. Some rain is forecast from Tuesday but not in the country's key northern wheat belt.

'We have some showers forecast this week in Germany at last after an unusually long dry spell,' one German trader said.

'The big concern is whether this will be enough and whether the rain will fall in the regions which most need it.'

Showers are forecast for central and south-eastern Germany on Tuesday and again on Wednesday. Central and southern areas are again forecast to receive showers on Thursday and Friday with dry and hot weather forecast to return on Saturday.

Germany's farm cooperatives association forecasts a 2.2 per cent rise in the 2011 wheat crop to 24.6 million tonnes if there are normal weather patterns. But last year's crop was also heavily cut by rain.

Dry weather in Britain has also been a concern. Rainfall in March was about 40 per cent below normal, and this month it has been running about 30 per cent below normal.

'We have had a very dry couple of months, and we have soil moisture deficits which are quite high for this time of year, although we have some rain forecast, which should alleviate the worst of the symptoms,' said analyst Susan Twining of crop consultants ADAS. Rain is forecast for later this week.

'I don't think there is any yield impact as yet. The critical time in terms of yield is from flowering onwards, and we are not at that stage yet,' she added.

Weather in Italy has been favourable for wheat growth in the past few weeks, but it is far too early to make any forecasts for the new harvest from June, said Paolo Abballe, grain analyst at Italian farming association Coldiretti.

Weather has been good also for maize plantings, with sowing almost over across Italy, he said.

Soft wheat areas are seen down about 5 per cent from last year, while the durum wheat area has dropped 13 per cent in the summer 2011 harvest, according to preliminary estimates by Italy's statistics agency ISTAT.

Spanish farmers said heavy rain over the Easter weekend helped ease concerns in the major grain importer over possible damage to the winter wheat and barley crops, after dry weather in the first half of April. An average of 35 millimetres of rain fell in the week to April 24 and more is forecast for this weekend.

'With the rain which has fallen and what is forecast, unless May is different, the soil looks very moist, and it may be said that all is well on the whole with the cereal crop,' said Juan Carlos Caballero, a crop technician with the Asaja farm union.

Spanish farmers normally begin harvesting wheat in sunny southern regions in May, and field work gradually works its way northwards towards the main grainbelt. April and May are crucial months for Spain's grain harvest, which can vary anywhere between 13 million and 23 million tonnes, depending on the weather.-Reuters

Tags: agriculture | Europe | farming | rains | food grains | wheat harvest |

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