* In France wintry conditions held up field work
* Snow blanketed beet-growing areas in Ukraine
* In Italy, Spain rainfall delayed plantings
By David Brough
LONDON, April 10 (Reuters) - A cold snap has delayed sugar beet sowings in much of Europe, leaving very little margin for error in coming months for the crucial growing cycle.
The slow start to the growing season could curb yields, which have been boosted in recent years by progressively earlier planting dates, although weather conditions over the spring and summer would still have a major bearing on output.
In France, sugar beet plantings are running behind last year’s pace after a late spell of wintry weather held up field work during March.
“The crop potential is not at its maximum but everything will depend on the months ahead,” Alain Jeanroy, director of French sugar beet growers’ group CGB, said.
“We’re about 10 days later than last year but it now depends on the weather and the weather can allow us to catch up.”
The CGB estimates that 85 to 90 percent of sowings have been completed, after field work accelerated from the start of April. The farm ministry said on Tuesday that 36 percent of the area had been sown by April 1.
In Germany, the prolonged winter has delayed sugar beet sowings although there is still time for beets to catch up, said F.O. Licht senior analyst Stefan Uhlenbrock.
“There are delays in German beet sowings, especially in the north. But I do not currently see reason for alarm as in the past we have seen that even late sowings can still produce good sugar yields if there is favourable weather later on,” he said.
The start of sowings in the west and north is more than two weeks late this year and began only in early April.
“However, the late sowings would reduce the leeway that beets have to overcome the impact of any unfavourable crop weather later in the year,” Uhlenbrock said.
Germany, in most seasons the EU’s largest or second largest sugar beet producer, harvested 393,000 hectares of beets in the 2012-13 harvest which has just ended.
In Ukraine, snow blanketed beet-growing areas, delaying the start of plantings that are expected to begin in the next few days, compared with two weeks earlier last year.
Snowfall in late March covered almost all the central, northern and western regions of Ukraine, delaying the start of field work by two to three weeks.
Ukrainian sugar producers’ union Ukrtsukor said earlier this month that the former Soviet republic was likely to reduce the area under sugar beet by 20-25 percent due to overproduction of white sugar last year.
In Russia, sugar beet sowings were proceeding well despite a late spring. “The late spring did not cause sowing campaign delays thanks to the southern region, where the campaign is ahead of schedule,” said Andrei Bodin, chairman of the Russian Sugar Producers’ Union.
In Poland, the extended winter has delayed sugar beet plantings and there is a threat to yields, said Rafa Strachota, deputy director of Polish sugar beet growers’ association KZPBC.
Polish beet sowings last year started in the third week of March but are now likely to begin around April 15-20, he said.
“The vegetation period lasts 180 days so it may not be possible to harvest beets in September without significant losses due to lower yields,” Strachota said.
But good spring and summer weather could still enable high beet density per hectare and sunny weather in September and October could still increase sugar yields, he added.
In Italy, heavy rainfall in northern growing areas since February and colder than average temperatures had delayed plantings by around 20 days, said Michele Distefano, director general of the National Beet Growers’ Association (ANB).
“The delays are due to cold temperatures and rains,” Distefano said. “If sowings are completed by the end of April, there should not be serious problems for production.”
In Spain, sugar beet sowings were expected to start slightly late, in mid-April. “We are a little delayed compared to previous seasons, due to rain, not the cold,” said Esteban Sanz, agriculture and crop director of sugar producer, ACOR.
In Britain, sowings were proceeding well despite the cold.
“Solid progress has been made with sugar beet drilling in the last two weeks and we estimate progress to date is in line with the five year average,” said a spokesperson for supplier British Sugar, a unit of Associated British Foods.
“It is far too early to comment on crop volume, which will depend entirely on the weather conditions in the forthcoming growing season.”