* Feed wheat replacing barley in German livestock rations
* Maltsters may have to accept lower quality supplies
By Nigel Hunt
LONDON, Sept 8 Barley harvests in western Europe are winding down with an overall slight fall in the size of the crop and quality also expected to decline, particularly in Germany, crop analysts said on Thursday.
Winter barley in Germany, which is mainly used for animal feed, suffered major damage from the triple blow of a very cold winter, springtime drought and summer rain, according to the farm ministry.
The ministry estimates the winter barley crop has fallen 21.6 percent to 6.76 million tonnes.
Livestock farmers have been switching from using relatively scarce barley to feed wheat.
"Wheat is expected to increasingly replace barley, which is in short supply, in feeding troughs in the EU," German grain trading house Toepfer International said in a report.
Germany is, however, expected to harvest a larger spring barley crop after farmers replanted weather-damaged rapeseed with spring grains.
The farm ministry estimates the spring barley crop, partly used for beer brewing, was up 18.1 percent at 2.01 million tonnes.
Frequent harvest-time rain in Germany, however, threatens to hurt the quality of spring barley.
"The (spring barley) crop nationally is up but the quality is very mixed," one German trader said. "It looks like malt producers and beer brewers may have to accept lower quality than usual in their supplies in the coming months.
FALL IN FRANCE
In France, the barley harvest shed 11 percent from last year and 19 percent compared to the 2006-2010 average, at 9 million tonnes, the farm ministry estimated this week.
The sharp fall was mainly linked to a 10 percent drop in barley yields after a severe drought that hit France until early June.
In terms of quality, some of the spring barley was downgraded to animal feed because of too high protein levels. Spring barley amounts to around one third of the total barley crop in France.
Britain's winter barley harvest in complete while 30 percent of the spring barley remains in the fields, mostly in Scotland where progress has been hampered by rain, crop consultants ADAS said in a report on Thursday.
Production should follow in a similar pattern to Germany with a smaller winter barley crop offset by a rise in spring barley output.
Spring barley plantings in Britain rose 10 percent this year, reflecting strong malting premiums in the run-up to last year's harvest, while winter barley area slipped 8 percent, according to a planting survey issued by the Home-Grown Cereals Authority.
Winter barley yields are seen falling to 6.1 to 6.2 tonnes per hectare, down from a five-year average of 6.5 tonnes while ADAS estimated spring barley yields on par with the average of 5.3 tonnes.
Spain is the only major producer in western Europe to harvest a significantly larger barley crop this year.
The barley has been in for more than a month and rose by 4.5 percent from last year's disappointing crop to some 8.5 million tonnes after an unusually wet spring, according to preliminary official estimates.
Dealers say about 1 million tonnes is of malting quality while the rest goes to animal feed. Spain can be self-sufficient in barley, but only with bumper crops like the 11.3 million tonnes harvested in 2008. (Additional reporting by Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Martin Roberts in Madrid and Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris)