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UPDATE 2-Bumper harvest seen lifting French wheat exports, stocks to 4-year high
* Agency pegs 2019/20 soft wheat exports outside EU at 11 mln T
* FranceAgriMer says big French crop competitive for export
* Soft wheat, barley stocks forecast to rise sharply (Adds comments from news conference)
By Gus Trompiz and Valerie Parent
PARIS, Sept 11 (Reuters) - French soft wheat exports outside the European Union are expected to climb to a four-year high in 2019/20 as the EU's biggest grain producer shifts a bumper harvest, farm office FranceAgriMer said on Wednesday.
Exports of soft wheat, France's main cereal crop, are projected to increase nearly 14% compared with last season to 11.0 million tonnes, the highest volume since 2015/16, FranceAgriMer said in its first supply-and-demand outlook for the 2019/20 season that started in July.
"The export season is looking favourable," Marc Zribi, head of FranceAgriMer's grain and sugar unit, told reporters.
"French wheat is among the most competitive export origins on a FOB (free-on-board) basis although freight costs will be key."
Rare shipments of French wheat to China in the early weeks of the season were a positive indication, while traders were also hopeful French wheat would regain market share in West Africa and see extra demand from Morocco after a poor harvest there, he said.
Stiff competition from the Black Sea region, driven by Ukraine so far this season, and potentially from Argentina later in the year would cap French flows, he added.
France is estimated to have harvested its second-largest soft wheat crop on record, with the farm ministry on Tuesday putting production at 39.45 million tonnes, nearly 16% above last year's level.
Final results from a harvest quality survey in collaboration with crop institute Arvalis confirmed good wheat quality, FranceAgriMer said. Test weights were very strong while average protein of 11.5% was decent although lower than last year due to this year's high yields.
French soft wheat exports within the EU were also forecast to climb by nearly 14% this season, while domestic demand was seen rising too, notably due to a 21% rise in animal feed use, FranceAgriMer said.
Despite the expected increase in demand, French soft wheat stocks at the end of this season were projected to rise by 32% to 3.3 million tonnes, which would also be a four-year high.
For other cereals, FranceAgriMer forecast barley ending stocks would jump 69% to 2.2 million tonnes in 2019/20 as the country absorbs record harvest production of 13.6 million tonnes.
Barley exports outside the EU were pegged at 3.4 million tonnes, up 42%, while domestic feed demand was forecast to rise 27% to 1.3 million tonnes.
For maize, stocks were projected at 2.3 million tonnes, up nearly 13%.
However, the comparative stocks figure of 2.0 million for 2018/19 had been reduced sharply from 2.8 million previously estimated, mainly due to a sharp upward revision to on-farm use of maize to correct a previous data error, FranceAgriMer said. (Reporting by Valerie Parent and Gus Trompiz Editing by Sybille de La Hamaide, Alexander Smith and Jonathan Oatis)
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