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UPDATE 1-Drought-diminished French maize harvest at halfway stage

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PARIS, Sept 30 (Reuters) - French farmers had gathered 51% of this year's grain maize crop by Sept. 26, farm office FranceAgriMer said on Friday, as growers pursued an earlier than usual harvest expected to yield the smallest crop in decades after summer drought.

Harvest progress advanced from 26% a week earlier and far exceeds the 2% achieved by the same week last year, the office said in a cereal crop report.

The harvest was running 28 days ahead of last year's pace and 18 days ahead of the five-year average, FranceAgriMer said.

Harvesting started early in late August after an exceptionally hot and dry summer accelerated plant growth.

However, the torrid weather also shrank potential yields and the farm ministry expects production to drop to its lowest since 1990.

An estimated 41% of maize crops were in good or excellent condition last week, falling from 43% the previous week to a new low in FranceAgriMer data going back to 2011.

The outcome of the drought-diminished maize harvest in France and elsewhere in Europe is being watched closely by the livestock sector, which relies on the grain for animal feed.

Meanwhile, imports from the European Union's main maize supplier, Ukraine, have been disrupted by the war with Russia. (Reporting by Gus Trompiz Editing by David Goodman)

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