West European wheat in good shape despite drenching

Thu Feb 20, 2014 8:29am EST

* Timing of rains minimises potential threat to crops

* French crop condition ratings better than last season

* Snow cover protects crops in Germany from cold snap

By Nigel Hunt

LONDON, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Wheat crops in western Europe appear in generally good condition despite heavy rains and flooding in parts of Britain and France, analysts said on Thursday.

Parts of Britain have been under water since December after a series of unusually heavy storms inundated large swathes of the British countryside.

"There may be some localised impact (on crops from the floods) but overall it will be fairly minimal," said Jack Watts, senior analyst at Britain's Home-Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA).

"It is not a nationwide problem at this point."

Rains in the run-up to Britain's wheat harvest in 2012 severely reduced the quality of that season's crop.

Britain received a further drenching during the autumn of 2012 which wrecked autumn plantings and led to the smallest wheat crop in more than a decade last year.

This year's deluge, however, has come at a less critical time of year for crops.

"Better a wet January than a wet July," Watts said.

Britain should harvest a much larger wheat crop this summer with plantings rebounding due to generally favourable conditions last autumn.

"The expectation is there will be a much more normal area of wheat in the UK for the coming harvest," Watts said.

An HGCA survey issued in November projected a 22 percent rise in UK wheat area for this year's harvest.

In France, the European Union's largest wheat producer, crops are also generally progressing well although excessively wet weather this winter in western and central France could hurt yields in those areas.

"Plants have developed thanks to winter warmth but the excess water sometimes hampers growth, which creates diverse situations depending on the type of soil," Jean-Paul Bordes from Arvalis technical institute said.

The wet conditions could impact final yields and put well-developed crops at risk of late frost damage, Bordes said. The lack of cold weather may also have favoured pest proliferation with first symptoms showing up in some fields.

Still, French farm office FranceAgriMer said last week that 75 percent of the domestic soft wheat crop was in good or excellent condition by Feb. 10, up from 66 percent at the same stage last season. [ID: nL5N0LJ3KY]

In the EU's second largest wheat producer Germany, both wheat and other winter grain plants are developing well with the winter mild and Germany not suffering from excessive rain seen in some other countries.

"Plants in most German regions continue to display a good condition," Germany's largest grain trader Toepfer International said in a report.

"In late January, temperatures in some parts of Germany fell to under minus 15 Celsius, but sufficient snow cover was available (to protect crops) in the eastern German regions hit," Toepfer said. (Additional reporting by Valerie Parent in Paris and Michael Hogan in Hamburg, editing by David Evans)