* 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 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
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
"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
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
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)