* French, German grain and rapeseed doing well this winter
* Snow protects wheat, rapeseed from frosts
* Serious British crop worry after bad weather
HAMBURG, Jan 24 A blanket of snow is protecting
grain and rapeseed crops from bitter frosts in leading European
Union producers France and Germany, but there is serious concern
about weather damage to the British crop, analysts said.
British farmers are already braced for poor wheat and
rapeseed harvests this year, with some of the wettest weather on
record preventing farmers from sowing crops and leaving many
plants in poor condition.
"As things stand now, French and German grains and rapeseed
are doing fine but the British problems could have a significant
impact on the 2013 harvest and trade flows," one German trader
"But we still have over two months in which major frost
damage can take place," he added.
In France, the EU's largest wheat producer and exporter,
frosts are not causing concern due to thick snow cover.
"The current cold wave presents low risks for well-rooted
wheat," said Jean-Charles Deswarte of French crop institute
Private weather forecasters said the current cold wave in
France could be ended by a return to milder temperatures next
"Wheat plants are not overdeveloped like last year so are
more likely to resist cold weather," Deswarte said. "Cumulative
temperatures (this winter) are near seasonal averages," he said.
In rapeseed, for which France and Germany compete for the
number one EU producer position, the picture remains mixed
between French regions. In most cases, the plants developed late
and are small.
In its first sowing estimates for the 2013 harvest in
December, the ministry put the winter rapeseed area at 1.49
million hectares, down 7.1 percent on 2012. The ministry
estimated France's winter wheat area up 2.8 percent at 4.96
GERMANY DOING WELL
In Germany, the EU's second-largest wheat producer, plants
have also been protected from frosts by thick snow.
"The crop picture for grains and rapeseed in Germany is
stable with frost damage not a theme so far," a German analyst
said. "If we get though the next couple of months we should be
positioned for a good harvest this year with both wheat and
rapeseed sowings expanded."
Germany's winter wheat area for the 2013 harvest is up 7
percent on the year to 3.1 million hectares, the national
statistics office said on Dec. 20. German winter
rapeseed sowings are up 10.1 percent on the year to 1.42 million
hectares, the office said.
The bright crop outlook has been darkened by serious
problems in Britain, the EU's third-largest producer of wheat
"We're looking at an underperforming crop for 2013, that is
for sure, although it is difficult to quantify at this stage,
said Home-Grown Cereals Authority senior analyst Jack Watts.
"The crops aren't in great shape. They are going to be more
vulnerable if we see any extreme weather going forward so if we
see another spring drought like we did a couple of years ago the
impact is going to be much greater."
Watts said recent snow did not pose a major threat to crops
but it limited opportunities for late planting of winter wheat
crops which can continue until the end of February.
"Where there hasn't been snow, farmers may be drilling some
late wheat but it is only going to be in pockets. We are staring
down the barrel at quite a big decline in wheat area," he said.
The HGCA in November projected Britain's wheat area would
fall 12 percent to 1.76 million hectares although Watts said
that now represented a "best case scenario".
Rapeseed area is also expected to be down, with some
estimating a decline of around 10 percent.
Britain had its second-wettest year on record in 2012,
slashing its wheat crop by 13 percent on the year to 13.3
million tonnes and turning Britain from a major wheat exporter
to a big importer.
"We may be waiting until 2014 before we get back to any sort
of normality," Watts said, adding Britain was facing a "two-year
hangover" from last year's weather.
A trader said this would create headaches for Britain's
major feed wheat customers this year.
"Spain and the Netherlands will have to look elsewhere for
their feed imports if another low British crop is confirmed," a
German trader said. "British flour mills could also be forced to
make larger imports than usual, with Germany, Poland and the
Baltic States likely to get more British wheat sales."
(Reporting by Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Valerie Parent in Paris
and Nigel Hunt in London; Editing by Veronica Brown and Helen