British wheat harvest runs late as France, Germany wind down
LONDON (Reuters) - The wheat harvest in Britain, the European Union's third largest producer, remains bogged down with heavy rains heightening quality concerns as activity winds down in the top two growers France and Germany.
"It is becoming quite clear as harvest has progressed that disease has been a major factor in reducing (UK) wheat yields. All the indicators are that it will be below average yields this year," analyst Susan Twining of crop consultants ADAS said.
Twining said Britain's wheat harvest was about 35 to 40 percent complete, running around 10 days later than normal, with most progress in eastern regions.
Lower yields will lead to a decline in the size of Britain's wheat crop, more than offsetting a rise of about 2 percent in plantings.
"I would say we are probably looking at a around a 14.5 million tonne crop this year, but there is still a large degree of uncertainty at this stage," Twining said.
Last year, the UK wheat crop was around 15.3 million tonnes, according to Britain's farm ministry.
"The overriding quality issue this year is specific weights," she said, adding farmers were facing penalties of up to 8 pounds a tonne due to low specific weights.
"There is a significant proportion (of crops) that are struggling to even achieve 72 (kilogrammes per hectolitre) and there are some pretty dreadful samples out there," Twining added.
The average specific weight for wheat last year in Britain was 78.7 kg/hl according to a quality survey issued by the Home-Grown Cereals Authority.
In France, by far the EU's largest wheat producer, the wheat harvest over and results point to higher yields with a larger share of feed wheat compared with last year, experts said.
Cuttings in the northern part of the country showed better than expected results and the crop is now expected to be the largest since 2004.
"There were rather good surprises in some less favourable regions," Philippe Gate, scientific director at French crop institute Arvalis, said.
He pegged the average yield this year at around 7.5 tonnes per hectare, in line with the institute's previous estimate released earlier this month, which put the total wheat crop at 36.5 million tonnes.
The average yield of the past five years was at 7.1 tonnes per hectare.
In terms of quality, Gate confirmed quality levels would be slightly lower this year than in 2011.
Germany's wheat harvest is approaching its final stages with only minor areas in the north and north-east remaining to be cut.
"Overall the crop quality in Germany seems to be satisfactory and much better than was feared only a few weeks ago when the wet start to the summer was causing great concern," one trader said.
"There was sunshine in the last moment which allowed farmers to gather a dry crop and prevented serious last minute damage."
Repeated rain in July and early August was followed by a burst of sunshine in past weeks which allowed farmers to gather the crop.
Germany will harvest 22.8 million tonnes of wheat this year, slightly up on the 2011 crop of 22.7 million tonnes, Germany's leading grain trading house Toepfer International said on Thursday.
"The crop quality is generally alright," another trader said. "There is a problem with lower protein levels in some areas but I would not regard this as a serious national issue."
"This will be a great harvest year for cereal farmers. They will get prices they would not have dreamed possible only a few months ago."
(Reporting by Nigel Hunt in London, Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris and Michael Hogan in Hamburg, editing by William Hardy)
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