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Spring grain sowings off to good start in western Europe

LONDON, March 12 (Reuters) - Spring grain sowings are making good progress in western Europe, particularly in top producers France and Germany, with a drop in planted area expected from last year's unusually high levels.

In France, 90% of the expected spring barley area had been sown by March 8, well ahead of year-earlier progress of 33%, data from farm office FranceAgriMer showed on Friday.

After heavy rain in January followed by freezing conditions in early February slowed early spring barley drilling, field work has been boosted by mild, dry conditions in the past month.

Favourable weather during the autumn of 2020 allowed a shift back to the winter grain crops which traditionally dominate in western Europe after difficult conditions forced many farmers plant spring crops in the prior season.

An early survey of spring planting intentions by the French farm ministry in December estimated the spring barley area could drop by almost 40% and the grain maize (corn) area by 18%.

In Germany, spring grain sowings are making good progress in generally favourable weather.

"Work is underway in a normal timeframe, the cold snap in February means that the very early start to spring sowings seen in the past couple of very warm winters will not occur this year," one German analyst said.

"But this is not a problem in my view."

The analyst added that a trend towards planting more maize or other vegetables at the expense of spring barley was expected in some areas.

Spring grains sowings in Britain are expected to fall sharply with a survey issued by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board pointing to a 30% drop in spring barley area as farmers turning to growing more winter wheat.

In Poland, spring plantings may run slightly later than in previous years as temperatures in the country are still low, dropping below freezing point at night, said Wojtek Sabaranski of analysts Sparks Polska.

But sowings are still inside the normal timeframe.

"It is hard to say what grains farmers will decide to plant most in the spring as virtually all grain prices remain very high," Sabaranski said. "I think that further growth in maize acreage is likely. They may also plant more spring barley due to recent very attractive prices while spring wheat may also be in focus."

(Reporting by Nigel Hunt in London, Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris and Michael Hogan in Hamburg; editing by David Evans)

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