Rains threaten quality of wheat crops in western Europe
* Weekly crop ratings in France show slight decline
* Crops at risk of mycotoxins after prolonged rains
* Rains may have come too late to salvage Spanish wheat
By Nigel Hunt
LONDON, July 17 (Reuters) - Repeated rains threaten to reduce the quality of wheat crops in western Europe, though there remains the potential for reasonable yields in most areas, crop analysts said on Tuesday.
"There is still potential, but there are threats to quality," Jean-Paul Bordes, head of research at Arvalis, said, referring to the crop in France, the European Union's top wheat grower.
Bordes noted that wet conditions could lead to problems with mycotoxins, which are toxic compounds produced when grains becomes moldy, and reduce Hagberg falling numbers, a key quality indicator and milling criteria.
Susan Twining, an analyst at crop consultant ADAS, said that wet weather in Britain had also increased the chances of mycotoxins.
"It is likely to be a high-risk year for mycotoxin," she said, noting increasing reports of fusarium affecting wheat ears while continued wet weather, lodging and delays in harvesting will further increase the risk. Fusarium are a group of fungi that produce mycotoxins.
The rains had the potential to disrupt the flow of wheat from the west coast of France, where early harvesting usually provides exports for the start of the season.
A growing line-up of scheduled loadings at the Atlantic port of La Pallice was notably raising fears of logistical snags.
First wheat cuttings in the region around the port of La Pallice last week showed relatively low protein levels for the region of about 11 percent.
Operators fear that harvest difficulties could spoil export opportunities created by crop problems in the Black Sea region.
Weekly crop ratings from farm agency FranceAgriMer showed a slight decline in the amount of soft wheat rated good/excellent for the second straight week, at 70 percent against 72 percent a fortnight ago.
Only 3 percent of the soft wheat crop was estimated to have been cut by July 9, up from 1 percent a week earlier, but down from 47 percent a year ago.
Forecaster Meteo France expects rainfall to halt in most of France until Wednesday, but rain could to fall again in the second part of the week.
In Germany the EU's second-largest wheat producer, crops still looked to have the potential to rebound.
"It is too early to press the alarm button on Germany's wheat crop because a period of sunshine would push wheat to ripeness," one analyst said. "Most wheat is still green, so it is not yet suffering damage in my view.
"But we will have a slightly later harvest start than hoped as the weather has been so cool and cloudy."
The rain has helped wheat to recover from a spring drought.
The German Farm Cooperatives Association said on Tuesday that it has raised its forecast of Germany's 2012 wheat harvest to 21.9 million tonnes from the 21.3 million tonnes estimated in June.
Germany harvested 22.7 million tonnes of wheat in 2011.
In Britain there were also hopes that the crop outlook could brighten if the weather turned dry and sunny.
"May was cool and dull, which is positive for yields, but the lack of sunlight to date during grain fill has been negative. On balance I would be optimistic that we can still achieve average yields in most situations," ADAS's Twining said.
Spain's wheat harvest should draw to a close within ten days, traders said.
The harvest has already finished in the southern region of Andalucia, worst affected by a severe drought at the start of the year, and is in the closing phases in the northern regions of Catalonia and Aragon, which have benefited from localised rain in recent weeks. However, they could prove insufficient to salvage a harvest that could be below analysts' forecasts of about 4.5 million tonnes.
"The harvest has been a disaster in Andalucia, and we only expect a bit better in Catalonia and Aragon," one trader said.
Spain had a wheat crop of 6.8 million tonnes last season, according to the International Grains Council.
Output of soft wheat in Italy rose to 3.4 million tonnes in 2012, from 2.85 million tonnes last year, thanks to a big rise in planted areas and improved yields, data from Italy's Agriculture Ministry and statistics agency ISTAT showed as harvesting almost finished across the country.
Traders and farmers said that the crop was good quality and could trim import needs in Italy, which is a major buyer of grain in Europe. (Additional reporting by Valerie Parent in Paris, Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Nigel Davies in Madrid and Svetlana Kovalyova in Milan; Editing by David Goodman)
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