By Tsvetelia Tsolova
SOFIA (Reuters) - Sizzling temperatures and lack of rains have scorched maize or corn crops across eastern Europe, further reducing global supplies already hit after the worst drought in the United States in 50 years.
Heat waves and lack of moisture in maize producers Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria, were the main reasons why the European Union's crop monitoring unit cut its outlook for average EU maize yields to 6.05 tonnes per hectare.
With maize harvests almost halfway through in major producers in eastern Europe, crops are estimated to be down between 40 to 50 percent from last year's abundant yield, with Poland being the only exception, farmers and officials said.
Analyst Strategie Grains also cut its outlook for EU 2012 grain maize output to 53.5 million tonnes in September, down 4.3 million on last month's estimate and 19 percent lower than last year's bumper crop.
The weaker crops will be enough to meet the domestic needs of the eastern European countries, but exports of the commodity, a vital ingredient in animal feeds, is likely to be limited.
Romania, which was the EU's second largest maize producer in 2011 after France, sees its crop dropping significantly from last year's 11.5 million tonne, with grain analysts forecasting its 2012 yields cut in half to 2.5 tonnes per hectare.
"We don't compare it with 2011 which was an exceptional year, with large production. This year's estimations have shown there will be important losses for maize," Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin said.
One of the worst droughts to hit Hungary in 20 years slashed yields in the central European country, and its maize crop is expected to be between 43 to 50 percent lower from a year ago, the Hungarian farm ministry said.
"On the basis of the data available so far, the final crop can be estimated with great certainty, this can come in at about 4.4-4.5 million tonnes," the ministry said.
The crop will be enough to meet Hungary's domestic needs that will match the harvest, and the ministry did not expect much of the crop to be available for exports.
UKRAINE, THE EXCEPTION
In case much is exported, Hungary may have to rematch needs with imports from western Europe or Ukraine, it said.
Ukraine, which increased the area sown for maize by 28 percent to 4.5 million hectares in 2012, is likely to harvest 21 million tonnes of the crop this year because of poor weather this summer against a record 22.7 million tonnes in 2011, its farm ministry said.
The Black Sea country exported a record 14 million tonnes of maize in 2011/12 season (October-September) but was likely to lower shipments to about 12.6 million tonnes in 2012/13, Kiev-based ProAgro consultancy said.
In Bulgaria, extensive heat and drought cut maize yields in half, reducing the crop to about 1.2 million tonnes from 2.2 million harvested in 2011, chairman of the grain producers union Angel Vukadinov said.
"The maize is almost taken in, but our worst fears have materialised. The yields are significantly lower," Vukadinov said.
The harvest will be more than enough to meet domestic needs of 800,000 tonnes, but exports will probably fall below the usual 1-1.2 million tonnes, he said.
Poland is the only eastern European country to see better maize crop this year. Its maize acreage increased 62 percent as farmers had to replant damaged wheat sowings in the spring and weather has been favorable since.
Poland is to reap 3.5 million tonnes of maize this autumn compared to 2.4 million a year ago, grain officials said.
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, Radu Marinas in Bucharest, Gergely Szakacs in Budapest, Maciej Onoszko in Warsaw; editing by James Jukwey)
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