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Strategie Grains slashes EU maize crop forecast by 10 mln T on drought

* Consultancy sees EU maize crop at 15-year low of 55.4 mln T

* Firm raises EU 2022/23 maize import forecast to 20 mln T

* Soft wheat crop estimate unchanged, export outlook cut

By Gus Trompiz

PARIS, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Severe drought is set to slash the European Union's maize harvest by 10 million tonnes, dropping it to a 15-year a low of 55.4 million tonnes, consultancy Strategie Grains said in its monthly forecast on Thursday.

The forecast marked a 15% cut to its July estimate of 65.4 million tonnes for 2022/23 EU maize (corn) production.

Crop forecasters have been slashing their outlooks for the EU maize harvest as worsening drought and successive heatwaves in major producing countries such as France, Romania and Hungary have strained maize plants during their crucial summer growth period.

"The outlook for the 2022 crop grain maize harvests across Europe has deteriorated drastically," Strategie Grains said in its monthly cereal report.

"This would be the smallest harvest since 2007."

Hot, dry weather in parts of the U.S. Midwest has also created concern about yield losses in the world's biggest maize producer, supporting prices this week ahead of widely followed U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) world crop forecasts on Friday.

The declining harvest outlook led Strategie Grains to increase its forecast for EU maize imports in 2022/23 by almost 3 million tonnes to 20 million tonnes, now above an estimated 17.8 million for 2021/22.

That would include 9 million tonnes of maize projected to come from Ukraine, although potential Ukrainian exports remained uncertain given the ongoing conflict with Russia and depending on progress in shipping grain through a sea corridor, Strategie Grains said.

For livestock feed, the main outlet for maize, the consultancy reduced its outlook for 2022/23 maize consumption in the EU by over 4 million tonnes, shifting some of the demand towards wheat and barley.

Lower maize availability could tighten wheat and barley supplies, depending on how much grain the EU exports, Strategie Grains said.

It trimmed its estimate of EU soft wheat exports in 2022/23 to 29 million tonnes from 30.4 million last month and now close to last season's level, pending further indications on Russian competition after a slow start to its export campaign.

Strategie Grains kept its forecast of 2022/23 EU soft wheat production at 123.3 million tonnes, down 6.5 million tonnes on last season, and raised its barley harvest estimate by 400,000 tonnes to 50.0 million, now 1.9 million lower than in 2021/22.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; editing by Jason Neely)

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