Europe is facing a smaller wheat crop after heavy autumn rain hindered sowings, but a remarkably warm winter has boosted crops in some regions, experts said on Friday.

Top EU producer France is facing a much smaller wheat harvest this year after torrential rain reduced the sown area and left sown plants in worse condition than last year.

France's farm ministry estimates the winter soft wheat area for this year's harvest at 4.70 million hectares, down 5.6% from last year.

“The shortfall in winter wheat acreage compared with farmers' original intentions is becoming clearer in west Europe, where yield potentials will also be affected by late sowing," consultancy Strategie Grains said.

“Despite good prospects in Germany, the Baltic countries, central and eastern Europe, wheat production in the EU is set to be substantially lower than last year because of the expected poor performances in France and the UK," it added.

Strategie Grains forecasts France's crop at 33.8 million tonnes down from around 39.5 million last year.

However, traders said the mild winter so far had allowed French farmers to do some late sowing while also helping young crops recover from a difficult start.

“For wheat that was sown, there aren't too many problems," one French trader said. “Wheat plants are resuming their growth with the non-existent winter."

Germany's winter wheat area has been reduced by 7.1% from the 2019 harvest to about 2.83 million hectares, official estimates say.

“Although the area has been cut frost damage (is) insignificant," one German grains analyst said. “Wheat is generally in good to very good condition."

“The main worry is the warm weather means there is a widespread lack of winter hardening and wheat could be vulnerable if there is a sudden change to cold weather."

Poland's wheat sowings are up 2-3% from about 2 million hectares harvested in 2019, said Wojtek Sabaranski of analysts Sparks Polska.

“Winter crops look pretty good at the moment," Sabaranski said. “Wheat sometimes has excessive growth and is exposed to various diseases given present abnormally high temperatures."

“Any major change in the weather pattern in February could be harmful to crops," he added.

Britain's wheat area is expected to be sharply down with rains forcing many farmers to switch to spring crops.

“We estimate that the UK winter wheat planted area will be at least 20% down from a year ago," said Ben Bodart of CRM AgriCommodities. “I think that now farmers have lost faith in being able to put more winter wheat in."

Bodart forecast this year's UK wheat crop could fall to 10.6 million tonnes from 16.2 million tonnes in 2019, a level which will switch Britain to a net importer following its departure from the European Union.

Copyright Reuters, 2020