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-Agritel@ (Adds French crop quality estimates)
PARIS, Aug 28 (Reuters) - France will need to export 20.1 million tonnes of soft wheat this season after harvesting its second-largest crop in history, French consultancy Agritel said on Wednesday.
France, the European Union's largest wheat producer and exporter, has only reached that level of exports three times before.
The country harvested 39.2 million tonnes of soft wheat this year, up 14.9% on last year, Agritel said, confirming its July estimate.
More than half of France's exports this year, or 11.3 million tonnes, will need to go outside the EU, Agritel said.
Although the challenge to export 20 million tonnes is high, it is reachable, notably supported by good competitiveness against maize and on global markets, the consultancy said.
"Pressured by (the large) harvest and helped by the weak level of the euro, French wheat is starting to be more competitive," Agritel Director General Michel Portier said.
"However, to meet this export challenge, it will absolutely need to remain (competitive) until the end of the campaign, limiting potential for higher prices," he said in a statement.
French soft wheat's main export markets are Algeria, Morocco and Egypt.
Exports will also be helped by good quality levels this year, Agritel said.
In its report published on Wednesday, farm office FranceAgriMer said 86% of the French soft wheat crop was at minimum 11% protein, meeting quality requirements on many export markets.
Specific weights, another measure of wheat quality, were also good with 65% of the crop above 79 kg per hectolitre, while 100% of it had a Hagberg falling number of 240 seconds, a benchmark for bread making, FranceAgriMer said in a note issued with crop institutes Arvalis.
At EU level, all-wheat exports this season could reach 26 million tonnes. That would be the highest of the past three seasons, allowing the bloc to remain the third largest global exporter after Russia and the United States, Agritel said.
EU wheat output this year rose by 12.8 million tonnes but is still limited due to disappointing production levels in some Iberian and eastern European countries, it said.
Soft wheat exports from major competitors in Black Sea countries are expected to remain stable at about 60 million tonnes this season. Output in Ukraine is estimated at a record 28.2 million tonnes, while Russia should harvest its second-largest harvest ever at 75.2 million tonnes, Agritel said.
On the other hand, Agritel said Kazakhstan harvested its lowest soft wheat crop in five years at 13.3 million tonnes. The consultancy did not give comparative figures for 2018.
"They leave more room for other exporters, including France, against the backdrop of an expected rise in global imports," Portier said. (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Susan Fenton and Edmund Blair)