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UPDATE 1-French cereal crop conditions decline, harvest accelerates

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PARIS, July 12 (Reuters) - The condition of French cereal crops declined further last week while harvesting accelerated, farm office FranceAgriMer said on Friday, as warm, dry weather continued in the European Union's biggest grain producer.

For soft wheat, the country's main cereal, 73% of crops were rated good or excellent in the week to July 8, compared with 75% the previous week, FranceAgriMer said in a weekly report.

The crop ratings had fallen more sharply in the previous week because of a late-June heatwave that brought record temperatures to France and other parts of western Europe.

The heat has since eased, but crop conditions have remained generally dry with some localised storms.

The soft wheat score remained above the 72% at the same time last year and analysts still expect France to gather a bigger harvest this year.

The warm, dry weather helped to accelerate harvesting, FranceAgriMer's report showed.

An estimated 9% of the soft wheat area had been harvested by July 8, compared with 1% a week earlier, though well below the 20% progress a year earlier, FranceAgriMer said.

For winter barley, usually the first major cereal crop to be harvested in France, 80% of the crop area had been harvested. That was a significant jump from 22% a week earlier but still behind the 92% achieved at the same time last year.

Spring barley harvesting was also under way, with 12% of the area cut, against zero a week earlier and ahead of 7% a year ago.

Harvesting of durum wheat, the variety used in pasta, was 42% complete, up from 6% the previous week and outpacing the 33% progress a year earlier.

The good/excellent rating for winter barley was unchanged at 73%, above 69% a year ago.

Analysts have expected limited heat stress on winter barley because plants were already mature and with harvesting well advanced crop conditions tend to stabilise.

Spring barley ratings, however, dropped sharply, with 72% of crops considered good/excellent, against 76% a week earlier. That followed a 10 point decline during the end-June heatwave.

For grain maize, harvested in late summer and autumn, the good/excellent score edged down to 78% from 79% the previous week but remained above the 73% at the same time last year.

Maize, which is widely irrigated, is at risk from increasing water restrictions in France as the hot, dry weather exacerbates low groundwater reserves. More than half of France's mainland administrative departments have now introduced limits on water use, including irrigation.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz Editing by David Goodman)

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