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EU headed for mixed maize crop after scorching summer

* Commission sees EU crop at relatively low 59 mln T

* Hungary crop expected to suffer after drought

* Irrigation to limit weather losses in Italy

* France set for high yields, Romania more mixed

PARIS, Oct 6 (Reuters) - The maize harvest under way in the
European Union is set to bring sharply contrasting yields as
some countries suffer losses from summer heatwaves and drought
while others have benefited from rainfall or irrigation.

The mixed prospects have led the European Commission to
forecast overall EU grain maize production at about 59 million
tonnes, about 1 million tonnes below last year and well short of
the average crop over the past five years.

This could keep the EU's maize import requirements at a high
level, with the Commission forecasting near-record imports of 15
million tonnes in 2017/18, though actual imports will depend on
overseas supply and maize's share in livestock feed.

Summer rain helped to boost yield potential in France, the
EU's biggest maize grower.

"Maize yields should be pretty decent across the country,"
said Paul Gaffet of consultancy ODA Groupe. "France had rain at
the right time and heat can also be good for maize."

A sharp rise in maize output is expected from the 12 million
tonnes produced in 2016 despite a fall in crop area this year.

Traders said that market estimates were converging at just
above 14 million tonnes, based on talk of a near-record average
yield of about 10 tonnes per hectare (t/ha).

ODA saw the crop at 13.5 million but with potential for
upside, Gaffet said, adding that official estimates below 13
million were expected to be revised upwards soon.

Harvest progress has been relatively slow because of recent
rain. As of Oct. 2, 15 percent of the grain maize crop had been
harvested, farming agency FranceAgriMer said.

Romania, the EU's second-largest maize producer, could also
achieve decent yields, although a dry end to the growing season
could keep the crop below last year's 9.5 million tonnes.

"Moisture in the soil was adequate before and during
pollination. The last days have been dry ... so the corn crop
has been damaged without doubt," said one trader in Romania.

Maize plantings were similar to last year at about 2.5
million hectares.

Hungary was facing more severe effects from heatwaves and
drought, with expectations of a sharp drop from last year's
bumper crop of about 8 million tonnes.

Farmers had harvested 21 percent of the 1 million hectare
crop area by Oct. 3, with an average yield so far of 6.37 t/ha,
the farm ministry said.

Hungary achieved a record maize yield of 8.6 t/ha in 2016.

Southern Europe also endured extreme heat and little rain,
though widespread irrigation for maize has limited crop damage
in Italy and Spain.

"There have been some very serious problems, especially just
below the Po (river valley), where it was very difficult to
irrigate," said Cesare Soldi, president of the Italian Maize
Farmers Association.

Other regions were much less affected, he said.

The farm ministry expects a harvested crop of about 6.4
million tonnes, while other forecasters see it below 6 million
in a steeper fall from 2016 output of near 7 million tonnes.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Valerie Parent in Paris, Radu
Marinas in Bucharest, Gergely Szakacs in Budapest and Isla
Binnie in Rome; Editing by David Goodman)

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