* French output seen below last year
* Initial German crop forecasts may be increased
* Yields seen below average in Italy
By David Brough
LONDON, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Sugar beet yields in some leading EU producers are expected to fall this year after hot weather last month hindered crop development.
In France, hot, dry conditions in August curbed the growth of sugar beet crops and should keep the harvest well below last year’s bumper production.
Sugar levels, however, were expected to remain good.
“We’re looking at more of an average harvest,” Alain Jeanroy, director of growers group CGB, said. “There was the dry weather in August and into September. It’s still not raining a lot.”
The French farm ministry this month forecast a sugar beet crop of 34.6 million tonnes, down from 37.3 million last year but still above the average of the past five years.
Average yields would fall to 88.4 tonnes a hectare from 94.7 tonnes, while sugar content was seen at 17.1 percent against 18.8 percent.
The CGB says last year’s crop of 37 million tonnes equalled a record dating back to 1981.
The 2011 crop benefited from favourable growing conditions, with a warm spring followed by regular summer rainfall, whereas this year’s crop faced a cool, wet spring and then a dry second half of summer.
“The hot, dry period in August led to a slowing in the growth of sugar beets planted in shallow soils,” Fabienne Maupas of sugar beet technical institute ITB said.
“Nevertheless, the leaf cover, which was very extensive after the heavy rain in late spring, allowed crops to maintain a high level of sugar accumulation.”
Germany’s sugar beet crop has started and more favourable weather in past weeks could mean initial crop forecasts may be increased, a spokesman for the German Sugar Industry Association (WVZ) said.
“Overall we have no major weather issues this year but the cool, wet start to the summer was not positive for beet sugar content,” the spokesman said.
“However, we have had hotter, more sunny weather in past weeks which may well have brought an improvement in sugar content.”
The WVZ said in its first harvest forecast in August that German refined sugar production in the new 2012/13 season will fall to 4.47 million tonnes from 4.77 million tonnes in 2011/12.
German farmers have planted 393,000 hectares of sugar beet for the new 2012/13 crop to be harvested this winter, little changed on the 394,000 hectares harvested last season.
But the sugar content in beets is likely to fall to 16.05 percent from 18.05 percent last season, the association said.
German refined sugar output of 4.47 million tonnes would again mean Germany would exceed its European Union production quota of some 2.8 million tonnes, it said.
Germany had also produced heavily over its EU production quota in previous seasons.
In Italy, yields are below average because of the impact of prolonged hot, dry weather, said Giovanni Belletato, crop analyst with the ANB sugar beet growers’ group in Bologna.
“The drought has eroded the productive prospects of the crop,” he said, adding that about 70 percent of the Italian harvest was done.
Harvesting in Italy is expected to wrap up in early October.
In Britain, the beet crop has developed more slowly than usual because of a wet spring.
“This year’s crop was planted in very good conditions but we did experience a slow period of growth during the spring due to the unseasonably low temperatures and high levels of rainfall,” a British Sugar spokesperson said.
“This has resulted in a later developing crop. Weather conditions have improved recently and we are seeing the crop making good progress.”
British Sugar, a unit of Associated British Foods, is Britain’s leading sugar supplier.
German analyst F.O. Licht said that with a small rise in area but a likely return to lower yields, it expected UK sugar output to fall to 1.2 million tonnes in 2012/13.
Combined with a high sucrose content in the beet, production for the 2011/12 season stood at 1.3 million tonnes.
In Poland, prospects for 2012/13 are favourable, with output seen only slightly lower year-on-year at 2.0 million tonnes, compared with nearly 2.1 million tonnes last season.
In the Netherlands, conditions were largely favourable during the growing period, so that the country now seems headed for a crop possibly only slightly below last year’s exceptional result, Licht said.