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Rain Eases EU Wheat Crop Worries, More Needed
PARIS - Wet weather across northern Europe has eased fears of a repeat of the 2003 drought that devasted the continent's wheat crop, but more rain is needed, particularly in Spain, analysts said on Thursday.

A wet Easter helped knock back French prices, with November futures, at 110.75 euros a week ago, now back at 109.00 euros a tonne, with a good-sized crop still looking likely. This may also lead to increased sales into intervention.

"We hear some French cooperatives and others have not put surplus cereals into intervention yet (because of cheap finance and prospects for drought in southwest France and Spain), the recent rains may have convinced them to do so," analyst CerCon Services said.

But the weather danger was far from over, with water levels in parts of France still low after a six-month dry spell.

The latest Environment Ministry bulletin on Thursday showed water curbs applicable in six departments, with some of the most strict in the wheat and maize growing area of Poitou-Charentes.

More than half the country had water restrictions either in force or planned.

GERMANY AND UK IN GOOD SHAPE

German plantings were in good condition, with no significant frost damage and enough rainfall, analysts said.

But the threat of frost remained, trade house Toepfer said in a report.

"The change between high daytime temperatures -- which can reach double figures in strong sunshine -- and night frosts of up to minus 10 centigrade can present a special threat," it said.

"If the ground surface is pushed up in the night by frost, this can tear roots anchored in the earth."

Agronomists said UK crops were also growing well, but worries about dryness persisted.

"Things are looking quite good -- we've seen a good bit of growth recently," said Mike Carver, director of The Arable Group consultancy.

The firm said recent showers had given the ground a much-needed soaking but more regular rains were needed.

"There's been a lot of rain in the last two days, so for the time being I think the situation is satisfactory. But there is still potential for a water deficit across some of the main wheat growing areas," Carver said.

Britain registered its driest winter since 1933 this season, figures from the UK Meteorological Office showed this week.

SPAIN NEEDS RAIN

After a very dry winter, Spain's water levels were 20 percent below last year's, Environment Ministry data showed this week

In some areas in the north, farmers were still waiting for rain before sowing maize.

"If there's no water, we'll have to see what to do with the maize crop," Pablo Resco of farmers union COAG said, adding that the area might be reduced.

"It's early days...but if it doesn't rain there could be 40 to 50 percent less maize in (the regions of) Aragon, Catalonia and Navarre," independent maize analyst Jesus Uruel said.

Those areas accounted for some 28 percent of Spain's total maize area.

Much of the wheat crop in the southern region of Andalusia had been damaged, farmers said, but it was too early to estimate losses.

But the northern region of Castille-Leon, source of a third of Spain's grain, was not among the worst-affected areas.
MGR Archive 3.4.2005
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