French cereal crops suffer as hot spell worsens drought

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PARIS, May 20 (Reuters) – Growing conditions for wheat and barley crops in France fell sharply for a second straight week, data from farm office FranceAgriMer showed on Friday, as a hot spell exacerbated drought in the European Union’s biggest grain producer.

An estimated 73% of French soft wheat was in good or excellent condition by May 16, against 82% the previous week, FranceAgriMer said in a cereal crop report.

That followed a 7-percentage-point decline in the previous week and meant the rating was now below a year-earlier score of 79%, the office’s data showed.

France has this week seen record temperatures for a month of May in some areas, further drying out soils that have received little rain this year.

The extremely dry weather has already caused severe damage to some grain crops and substantial rain will be needed by early June to avert losses in large producing regions, a technical institute said on Thursday. 

Regional data in FranceAgriMer’s cereal report suggested contrasts in growing conditions. In the Ile de France region around Paris, just 45% of the soft wheat crop was rated good/excellent, while in the Hauts de France, a key production region in the far north, the score was 77%.

Showers on Friday and in the coming days could help crops recover although, as in a previous unsettled spell at the start of the week, rainfall may be erratic, traders said.

French barley conditions also dropped sharply, as in the previous week.

The good to excellent rating for winter barley fell 8 percentage points to 71%, while the corresponding score for spring barley dropped 7 percentage points to 69%, FranceAgriMer’s report showed.

Farmers were rounding off maize planting, with 98% of the expected area sown.

In a first published rating for emerged maize plants, FranceAgriMer said 93% of the crop was in good or excellent conditions against 95% a week earlier.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Forrest Crellin; Editing by Bradley Perrett and Edmund Blair)

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