* Bitter spell brought double-digit negative Celsius lows
* Snow-covered German, Polish crops seen withstanding cold
* French wheat in good shape; early spring barley more at risk
* Excess moisture after rain, snow becoming risk in Britain
PARIS, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Severe cold across Europe in the past week is unlikely to have inflicted significant damage on wheat crops that had built up winter sturdiness and were often insulated by snow, analysts and traders said.
Although frost impact cannot be fully determined until crops emerge from winter dormancy, the expected absence of major losses in the European Union could keep the exporting region on track for a larger harvest this year, particularly after a rebound in sowing in top EU grower France.
“In France, there shouldn’t be much impact and we’re sticking with a scenario of pretty decent harvest yields,” said Vincent Braak, crop analyst with Strategie Grains.
Like other European countries, France observed double-digit negative Celsius temperatures in some areas last week, levels that can potentially hurt wheat crops.
However, rapeseed sown during late-summer drought and some spring barley drilled early before winter were more at risk than sturdier wheat, according to traders and analysts.
The French farm ministry last week raised its estimate of the country’s winter soft wheat area for the 2021 harvest to 4.86 million hectares, up 15% from the previous year.
In central Europe, snow was expected to have limited any negative effects from lows of around minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4°F) in Germany and Poland.
“The frosts are deep but wheat has generally good slow cover throughout Germany and I am not expecting significant problems with frost damage,” one German grains analyst said.
“Temperatures this low are not unusual but winters have been so warm in recent years that we have forgotten that long frosts are possible.”
Germany’s winter wheat sown area for the 2021 harvest rose 2.7% on the year to about 2.83 million hectares, according to an official estimate in December.
In Poland, official estimates project the winter wheat area little changed on the year at about 2 million hectares, although Wojtek Sabaranski of analysts Sparks Polska said the area may be slightly smaller after more winter rapeseed drillings and a late end to maize harvesting.
“No major winterkill is expected following this cold event,” he said. “In most parts of Poland crops were protected by sufficient layers of snow.”
Warmer weather this week has removed the immediate threat of frost damage in much of Europe, although Strategie Grains’ Braak said some damage may have occurred in the Baltic states.
Heavy rain and snow this winter could benefit European crops later by replenishing ground moisture, although a wet spring could conversely lead to damaging soil saturation, Braak added.
Soggy conditions in former EU member Britain were starting to temper yield expectations, said CRM Agri analyst Peter Collier.
“Looking out at now melted and waterlogged fields, markets are losing confidence in the prospects for above average yields and an exportable surplus next season,” he said.
Collier estimated planted area had risen by 25% to 30%, year-on-year, from the prior season.
The previous year’s rain-hit sowing campaign led to a plunge in harvest output and a wave of imports.
Reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris, Michael Hogan in Hamburg and Nigel Hunt in London; Editing by Steve Orlofsky
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