* Rain helps maize in countries like Romania, Hungary
* Southern zones may offset weather losses further north in EU
* Dwindling wheat, fodder may fuel record maize imports
* GRAPHIC-European soil moisture map: tmsnrt.rs/2M4kIvA
By Gus Trompiz and Valerie Parent
PARIS, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Favourable prospects for maize in southern Europe could help offset damage from drought and heatwaves further north, but the EU is still expected to import a record amount to feed livestock following a poor wheat harvest, analysts said.
Widely followed analysts Strategie Grains on Thursday increased slightly their European Union grain maize crop forecast, as upgrades for countries like Romania balanced cuts in Germany or France.
More southerly regions have mostly avoided the prolonged heat and drought that have struck the north, while damage from heavy rains has been limited.
“Torrential rains over the past few weeks haven’t impacted maize crops so badly as in the case of wheat,” a grain trader in Romania said, citing potential for bumper maize yields.
In Hungary, rainfall had also boosted yield prospects although crop conditions varied widely between regions, a government official said.
“In areas with abundant rainfall in June-July, crop prospects are good. However, in regions with less rainfall, or where the soil is inadequately saturated with water, ears of maize are smaller,” Zsolt Feldman, state secretary at the agriculture ministry, said.
Together with improved harvest prospects this year in Spain and Italy, the southeast EU could keep the bloc’s production of maize at an average level of around 60 million tonnes.
But analysts warn that with wheat and barley supplies tightening both in the EU and worldwide, maize will become a larger share of livestock feed leading to record EU imports.
Strategie Grains projects that the EU could buy in 19 million tonnes of maize in 2018/19, up around 1.5 million from an already-record level expected in 2017/18, while Rabobank sees potential for 21 million tonnes in imports.
In northern Europe, the grain maize harvest could shrink further as farmers decide to cut crops early as on-farm fodder to make up for a lack of grass and straw.
European farmers grow both grain maize, which is dried and sold on the market, and fodder maize that is harvested earlier and used directly on farms to feed livestock.
Germany’s marketable grain maize crop is set to slump by almost 50 percent to 2.3 million tonnes, the farm cooperatives association estimated.
“There have been heavy drought losses, but the reduction is also largely due to grain maize being switched to on-farm feed use and biogas production,” one German analyst said.
In France, maize has also suffered from hot, dry weather.
National ratings for grain maize have tumbled by almost 10 points in the past two weeks to 62 percent good/excellent, and the farm ministry’s first harvest forecast this week projected a 10 percent drop in grain maize output.
Most traders expect the crop to be well below the ministry’s 12.8 million forecast and some see it falling as low as 11 million tonnes if regular rain does not follow storms this week.
Poland has also endured torrid weather but Sparks Polska said production may still be close to last year’s at 4.2-4.3 million tonnes.
“Due to the heat, the condition of maize in most regions has deteriorated somewhat, but in general it is not bad,” Wojtek Sabaranski of the analyst firm said.