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PARIS: The state of French soft wheat crops remained stable last week, although still at their worst in four years, data from farm office FranceAgriMer showed on Friday.

Some 66% of French soft wheat was rated as being in good or excellent condition by March 25, unchanged from the previous week but down from 94% a year earlier, FranceAgriMer said in a cereal report.

The rating was the lowest for the time of year since 2020, when French wheat crops were affected by heavy rain during planting.

Wet weather since autumn has disrupted planting and early crop development in France, the European Union’s biggest grain producer, and other parts of western Europe. The European Commission this week forecast that the European Union’s main wheat crop will fall to a four-year low in 2024/25 due to a drop in the planted area.

Meanwhile, EU crop monitoring service MARS said winter grain crops were in mediocre condition in large parts of the bloc.

FranceAgriMer estimated that winter barley conditions were also at their poorest since 2020, with 67% of crops rated good/excellent, down slightly from 68% the previous week and 71% when FranceAgriMer resumed its ratings mid-February.

Spring barley sowings accelerated after a slow start, with 82% of the expected area sown against 48% a week earlier, but still running well behind average. Spring barley sowings are usually nearly over by this time of year. Weather forecasts pointed to rainy weather in the next two weeks in France.

Furthermore, the European Commission forecast that the European Union’s main wheat crop will fall to a four-year low in 2024/25 due to a drop in the planted area.

In its first supply-and-demand projections for next season, the Commission projected that usable production of common wheat, or soft wheat, in the EU will reach 120.8 million metric tons, down nearly 4% from this season and the lowest level since 2020/21.

Like four years ago, planting of wheat in Europe has been disrupted by heavy rain, including in top EU producers France and Germany.

The Commission estimated the soft wheat area in the EU at 20.95 million hectares, down from 21.75 million in 2023/24, while the average yield was projected unchanged from this season at 6 tons per hectare.

EU soft wheat exports in 2024/25 were pegged at 31.0 million metric tons, unchanged from the volume expected in 2023/24.

Imports have become a flashpoint in the EU due to an influx of Ukrainian grain; the Commission projected that inflows of soft wheat would fall to 4.4 million tons in 2024/25 from the 7.5 million expected this season. End-of-season soft wheat stocks were projected to drop to 12.1 million tons in 2024/25 from the 19.9 million expected this season. In other crops, barley production was forecast to rebound to 53.7 million tons from a 12-year low of 47.5 million this season, while maize output was seen rising to 69.0 million tons from 62.3 million.

EU maize imports were projected to fall marginally to 17.4 million tons from the 17.5 million expected in 2023/24.

Production of rapeseed was pegged at 19.5 million tons in 2024/25, down from 19.8 million this season, while palm oil imports were forecast to drop to 3 million tons from 3.7 million.

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