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EU maize planting progresses after chilly April delays

PARIS, May 7 (Reuters) - Maize planting in the European Union is in full swing as farmers catch up on a slow start during a chilly April, with warmer and wetter weather needed this month to get the crop off to a good start, analysts said.

Early forecasts project the 27-nation EU, a major producer and importer of maize (corn) for livestock feed, will harvest a bigger crop this year, as yields in Romania and other nations recover from drought in 2020 and the EU crop area stays stable.

French farmers were in the latter stages of planting, having accelerated field work since an early April freeze.

But the proportion of emerged crops was lower than it was a year ago, according to farm office FranceAgriMer, a sign that dry, cool weather has hindered germination.

"It was extremely dry up to the end of April," said Thomas Joly, head of maize at French crop institute Arvalis. "You had a few farmers irrigating fields to get the crops to emerge, which is something out of the ordinary."

Rapid germination was important given widespread problems with birds eating planted seeds, Joly said.

Showers since last week had helped and heavier rain and a warmer spell in coming days should boost crops, traders said.

France's grain maize area is expected to fall, after rising sharply in 2020 due to disrupted winter grain sowing, with Arvalis expecting a 10% drop, back to the level of two years ago.

Potential production of commercial grain maize could fluctuate up to harvest time in France and Germany, where farmers also grow silo maize for on-farm use.

"The high prices mean some traditional farming patterns could change," a German analyst said. "If the quality is good enough, a fair volume of silo maize could be sold on the open market and other feed grains used on farms."

German grain maize plantings were nearing completion after generally favourable weather. The German farm cooperatives association forecasts the grain maize area for the 2021 crop will rise 1.5% on the year to 428,000 hectares.

In Poland, planting was running late after a cold April but high prices should encourage farmers to finish work before the planting window closes in mid-May, said Wojtek Sabaranski, an analyst at Sparks Polska.

"Farmers will be in a hurry to plant maize in the next 10 days or so as it is supposed to warm up considerably in the days ahead," he said, adding the area should at least match last year's 620,000 hectares.

Assuming an average yield at about 7.6 tonnes a hectare, Sabaranski sees Poland's crop reaching 4.8 million to 4.9 million tonnes against an estimated 4.8 million tonnes in 2020.

Among other major EU maize producers, Hungary's farmers are about halfway through planting and the agriculture ministry expects an area of 988,000 hectares, little changed from last year.

Romania's maize area was also expected by analysts to be stable, at about 2.6 million hectares.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris, Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Gergely Szakacs in Budapest and Radu Marinas in Bucharest; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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