August 17, 2018 / 3:44 PM / 3 months ago

EU wheat harvests shrink, but quality remains good -analysts

* Graphic on European drought: tmsnrt.rs/2M4kIvA

* Smaller wheat crops in France, Germany, Britain and Poland

* Quality of crops appears to be generally good

LONDON, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Wheat harvests in major European Union countries are winding down with drought having shrunk crop sizes but quality generally good, analysts said on Friday.

“The market consensus emerging is that German new-crop wheat is generally decent quality with good protein content,” one German analyst said, referring to production in the European Union’s second-largest producer.

In top producer France a rapid harvest ended in early August while in Germany and Poland almost all the wheat has now been cut. Even in Britain, where the wheat harvest often stretches into September, it was 80 percent complete as of Wednesday.

Germany’s 2018 winter wheat crop will fall 19.9 percent from 2017 to 19.2 million tonnes, said farm cooperatives in the most recent forecast by a major organisation on Aug. 8.

“The smaller crop will very sharply cut German wheat exports but means domestic milling supplies are reasonable, perhaps needing topping up with some milling imports from other EU regions like Poland, France and the Czech Republic,” the analyst added.

In France, there was a growing consensus that production will decline by less than some feared earlier in the summer.

Soft-wheat crop estimates were tending towards 34 million tonnes or slightly higher, traders said. This was well down from 36.6 million tonnes last year but above some forecasts that have pegged production at about 33 million tonnes.

The farm ministry’s early August forecast of 35.1 million tonnes remained at the high end of market estimates.

French wheat is thought to have suffered in particular from torrential rain earlier this year. Heatwaves in early summer also stressed some crops, though the impact was much less severe than in more northerly European countries.

“I’m not hearing people talk about 33 million tonnes any more. The impression is that it’s above 34 million tonnes,” one trader said. “The harvest was much worse affected in northern Europe.”

Wheat quality was generally good, with strong protein content and mostly decent test weights, which could leave France in a relatively good export position compared with other EU states.

In Britain, a smaller but generally good-quality crop has also been harvested this year.

“Winter wheat quality continues to meet (quality) specification, with clear, dry conditions during harvest meaning that crops continue to be harvested when ripe,” the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board said in a report on Friday.

Trade estimates for the UK wheat harvest range from about 13.5 million tonnes to 14 million tonnes, down from 14.8 million last season.

In Poland, wheat harvesting is practically finished, with only a few minor areas left, said Wojtek Sabaranski of analysts Sparks Polska. Farmers are unwilling sellers, expecting prices to rise.

Poland’s wheat crop is estimated to fall 12 percent from 2017 to 9.9 million tonnes, Sabaranski said.

Reporting by Nigel Hunt in London, Michael Hogan in Hamburg and Gus Trompiz and Clement Rouget in Paris Editing by David Goodman

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