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UPDATE 1-French spring barley sowing still slow in rain; wheat rating dips

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PARIS, March 13 (Reuters) - French farmers again made little progress in spring barley sowing last week, data from farm office FranceAgriMer showed, as heavy rain continued to drench fields in the European Union's biggest grain producer.

Spring barley sowing was 34% complete by Monday, up only marginally from 33% a week earlier and 32% two weeks ago, FranceAgriMer's cereal crop data showed.

The sowing progress in the latest week was well below the 96% seen in the same week last year and also behind the average pace of the past five years.

Drilling of spring barley, the first major cereal crop to be sown in France at the end of winter, got off to a brisk start in late January, helped by unseasonably mild temperatures.

Frequent showers in February, with parts of northern France seeing record rainfall for the month, then waterlogged some fields that were still soggy after torrential rain in autumn.

The rain prompted France's meteorological office to issue flood warnings for some river zones this week while in Paris the Seine spilled onto quaysides.

Rain has now eased in much of France and drier conditions are forecast for coming days, although FranceAgriMer officials said this week it may be too late for some spring barley sowing.

"The next two weeks are going to be crucial for spring sowing," Benoit Pietrement, head of FranceAgriMer's grain committee told reporters on Wednesday.

"The weather is improving but it will take over a week for fields to dry out."

Some farmers were already looking to drop some intended spring barley area and switch instead to later-sown spring crops such as sunflower seed and maize, he added.

For soft wheat, France's main cereal crop, the condition of plants declined slightly in the week to March 9, with 63% of crops rated good or excellent against 64% in the previous week, FranceAgriMer said.

That compared with an 85% rating in the same week last year.

The winter barley rating declined to 63% from 65%, also well down from a year-earlier score of 81%.

Soft wheat and winter barley faced difficult sowing conditions during the wet autumn in France, which analysts expect to lead to a lower wheat area for this year's harvest.

Soggy field conditions have hampered crops' root development and could also favour disease, although a mild winter had allowed overall plant growth to catch up after the rain-delayed sowing, FranceAgriMer officials said.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Forrest Crellin; Editing by Jan Harvey and Clarence Fernandez)

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