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UPDATE 2-France seen raising wheat exports after avoiding worst of weather
* FranceAgriMer sees more non-EU soft wheat, barley exports
* Harvests hit by weather but less than some EU countries
* Soft wheat stocks seen at 5-yr low, barley at 11-yr low
* More imports, lower exports to cushion drop in maize crop (Updates with comments made at news conference)
By Gus Trompiz and Valerie Parent
PARIS, Sept 12 (Reuters) - France, the European Union's biggest grain producer, could boost exports of wheat and barley this season after its harvest was less affected by severe weather than other EU states, the country's farm office said on Wednesday.
In its first supply-and-demand outlook for the 2018/19 July-June season, FranceAgriMer projected French soft wheat exports outside the EU at 8.5 million tonnes, up from 8.1 million in 2017/18, while barley exports to non-EU destinations were forecast to rise to 3 million tonnes from 2.5 million.
Adverse weather that included torrential rain is expected to have pushed wheat and barley production down by about 5 percent from last year, but yield losses were less severe than in north Europe and grain quality has proved decent, FranceAgriMer said.
"This export trend can be explained mostly by the weather context," Marc Zribi, head of FranceAgriMer's grain and sugar unit, said regarding soft wheat.
"There is a potential window for French exports to broaden their destinations."
French wheat has lost market share overseas in the past two years due to erratic harvests and the growth of Russian exports.
With Russia's shipments expected to be much lower this season, France could regain market share in Africa while reinforcing its leading position in Algeria, Zribi said, adding that competition from Argentina remained a question mark.
Algeria has dominated French wheat shipments so far this season but sales to Ivory Coast were a positive sign, he said.
In contrast, French wheat shipments within the EU were expected to fall sharply, to 8.1 million tonnes from 9.3 million, after outpacing non-EU exports in the past two seasons.
Improved harvests in Spain and Portugal this year were a factor in reduced demand inside the EU, Zribi said.
In barley, France was well placed to be among sources for the 1.5 million tonnes purchased by Saudi Arabia in a tender this week, he said, which would add to strong early-season demand from China.
Soft wheat stocks at the end of the season were forecast by FranceAgriMer at 2.5 million tonnes, down from an estimated 2.95 million in 2017/18 and the lowest volume in five years.
Barley stocks were seen declining to an 11-year low of 955,000 tonnes.
FranceAgriMer projected maize stocks to be little changed at 2.53 million tonnes, although this was after the office sharply revised its estimate of 2017/18 stocks to 2.55 million from 2.9 million previously.
A sharp expected fall in maize production, partly due to scorching summer weather, would be partly cushioned by a projected rise in imports to an 11-year high of 750,000 tonnes, FranceAgriMer's forecasts showed.
A steep expected drop in intra-EU maize exports, to 4.1 million tonnes from 4.9 million, would also offset increased animal feed demand.
For durum, the wheat variety used in pasta, FranceAgriMer did not publish forecasts, citing uncertainty over stock levels from last season possibly due to a very early 2018 harvest. (Reporting by Valerie Parent and Gus Trompiz Editing by Sybille de La Hamaide and Edmund Blair)
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