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PARIS: Farmers in France, the European Union’s biggest crop producer, are expected to cut back on wheat and sugar sowing for this year’s harvest but expand barley and rapeseed area, the country’s farm ministry said on Tuesday.

For soft wheat, France’s most-grown cereal, the ministry pegged the 2022 area, including a very small amount of spring crop, at 4.79 million hectares (mln ha), down 3.9% on 2021 and 0.7% below the average of the past five years.

Winter soft wheat sowings were revised up slightly to 4.77 mln ha, from a previous estimate of 4.75 mln ha in February that traders had considered rather low.

Among initial estimates for spring planting, the ministry projected the sugar beet area would fall by 1.5% from last year to 396,000 ha, which is 11.6% below the five-year average.

For spring barley, the area was seen rising 4.1% from last year to 553,000 ha.

Estimated winter barley sowing was kept unchanged from February at 1.25 mln ha, up 4.4%, giving an expected all-barley area of 1.81 mln ha, up 4.3%.

For rapeseed, the ministry estimated the 2022 area including a marginal amount of spring crop at 1.16 mln ha, up 18.4% from 2021, but still 6.7% below the five-year average.

French crops have generally benefitted from moderate weather since autumn, with wheat and barley recording high ratings in farm office FranceAgriMer’s weekly crop progress reports.

However, the ministry said its area estimates were based on data as of April 1, just before a cold snap.

Record low temperatures damaged vines and fruit trees, with recently sown field crops like sugar beet also seen as vulnerable to some impact.

For maize (corn) and sunflower seed, the ministry is due to give first area estimates next month.

Traders are watching to see if farmers shift some area from maize to sunflower as the latter requires less fertiliser, the prices of which have soared in the past year.

Farmers may also make adjustments following an EU decision to allow them to use fallow land this spring to help offset lost supply due to the war in Ukraine.

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