PARIS, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Low prices and fading competition have put European barley exports on track to hit a record, led by a strong flow of French shipments to China, analysts said.
European barley has also benefited from China's move to diversify animal feed supplies after restricting U.S. corn imports on concerns about possible contamination with genetically-modified crops.
"We are heading towards record EU barley exports," said Laurine Simon, an analyst at France's Strategie Grains.
The consultancy on Thursday raised its monthly estimate for EU barley exports in 2014/15 by 400,000 tonnes to 7.9 million tonnes, up from a previous record of 5.7 million last season.
Of this, 1.62 million tonnes would head to China, compared with 112,000 tonnes in 2013/14, with most coming from France.
A feature of this season's shipments to China has been animal-feed barley, as opposed to malting grade for the grain.
Port data shows 1.38 million tonnes of French barley, both malting and feed, have been shipped to China or are awaited in French ports.
The trend is not expected to wane next season.
Some 400,000 to 600,000 tonnes of French barley have already been sold to China for the 2015 harvest, traders said.
Strategie Grains expects total EU barley exports to further rise next season to a new record of 8.1 million tonnes, of which 2.0 million tonnes for China.
In another sign of Asia turning to EU barley, Britain shipped last week what is believed to be the first bulk shipment of UK feed barley to Japan.
"We stand a good chance to do some more. Certainly we are competitively priced," one UK dealer said.
But Britain is less likely to sell in China this season, as no protocol has been signed to export there.
Traders also cited the strength of the dollar and reduced availability from traditional suppliers such as Australia and Canada as factors in the increased Asian interest this season.
Australia's barley exports in 2014/15 are seen falling by a quarter to 4.7 million tonnes, International Grains Council data showed. They would shed 200,000 tonnes in Canada to 1.3 million.
Germany took advantage of France's shift to Asia to boost its exports to Saudi Arabia although total EU sales to the world's largest barley importer are expected to dip this season to the benefit of Ukrainian and Russian origins. (Additional reporting by Nigel Hunt in London and Michael Hogan in Hamburg, editing by David Evans and William Hardy)