EU set for big wheat crop despite weather swings
* Big crops in France, Germany, Poland
* Weather damage not as bad as feared
Poor crops in Britain, Italy
By Michael Hogan
HAMBURG, Aug 20 (Reuters) - The European Union's main wheat producers have gathered a bumper harvest despite worries the long winter and hot summer would damage crops, traders and analysts said on Tuesday.
"It looks as though wheat came through the long winter and scorching start to the summer better than feared," one German trader said. "EU wheat supply for export and domestic use will be better than expected only a few weeks ago and the problems in Britain have not spoiled the overall good picture."
In France, the EU's largest wheat producer, harvesting is almost over and a bumper crop is expected.
Analyst Agritel estimates France's 2013 soft wheat crop at 37.0 million tonnes, up 4 percent on 2012 and the largest in nine years.
"There were fears at first but the good weather at the end of the growth cycle helped yields," a French trader said.
Harvesting is 90 percent complete in France, but some producers said harvesting could last until mid-September in the far north of the country.
The French crop's specific weight and Hagberg values, two essential criteria for bread-making, are good but protein levels differed, sometimes below the 11 percent threshold for export in large producing regions such as Poitou-Charentes, analyst Strategie Grains said.
In the EU's second largest producer Germany, harvesting is in its final stages. Germany's Farm Cooperatives Association forecasts Germany will harvest 24.35 million tonnes of wheat in 2013, up 8.8 percent from 2012.
"Overall quality is satisfactory and the crop size good," a German trader said. "The extreme weather we had this year has led to some regional variations in quality but overall the crop is reaching a decent quality standard and I think there will be ample supplies of bread-quality wheat for German exports in the coming year."
In the UK, the third largest producer, harvesting is now in full swing, with traders forecasting a crop of around 12 million tonnes, down from 13.3 million tonnes last year and the smallest crop in over a decade.
ODA UK consultant Jake French estimates around 28 percent of the crop has now been collected. He said yields were better than expected, pegging the estimated average yield at 7.26 tonnes per hectare, close to the five year average of 7.7 tonnes.
He said quality is generally good but better quality wheat may be harvested first so early cuttings may not indicate the end result.
The wheat area in England fell to a 30-year low this season after wet autumn weather ruined sowings.
In the EU's number four wheat producer Poland, the harvest should rise to 9.03 million tonnes from 8.6 million tonnes last year, said ODA Polska director Regis Miola.
"Wheat has been harvested from over 80 percent of the sown area but there have been delays, especially in north Poland due to recent rain," Miola said.
"Yields are good and grain quality good until now, but we have to be careful about making overall judgements because recent showers may have impacted quality parameters."
Better weather is expected at the end of this week and 3-4 days without rain should see the harvest complete, Miola said.
Harvesting of wheat in Italy, a major grain importer, has ended, and the smaller crop was gathered after earlier heavy rains delayed and reduced plantings.
"The qualities are good," said Paolo Abballe, crop analyst at farmers group Coldiretti.
Soft wheat output is seen at 2.99 million tonnes, down from 3.41 million tonnes last year. The durum wheat crop, used for making pasta, is forecast at 3.71 million tonnes from 4.18 million tonnes.
(Reporting by Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris, Agnieszka Flak in Milan and Sarah McFarlane in London; editing by Keiron Henderson)