By Sybille de La Hamaide
PARIS (Reuters) - Long-awaited showers finally hit French grain fields over the weekend and more rain is expected this week in most key European producers, but it will likely not be enough to reverse drought damage to winter crops.
"For the moment it is not a revolution," Strategie Grains head analyst Andree Defois said about the French crop. "The fact that there is rain is seen as the end of a yield drain but we are far from conditions that will allow to make up for it all.
"What has been damaged will remain so," she added, explaining that even in ideal weather conditions the remaining grain would not be able to compensate for the lost output.
France, the European Union's top grain producer, which experienced its driest March-May spring period in 50 years and the hottest since 1900, saw rainfall over the last few days and more is forecast until the end of the week.
In key producing regions in northern France, last weekend's rains were the first significant precipitation in four months.
Defois said despite the rainfall Strategie Grains would likely keep its estimate for the French wheat crop unchanged at just above 32 million tonnes.
"The coming rainfall will just consolidate the situation we had reached, preventing it from worsening," she said.
Rain had started earlier in Germany, the EU's second-largest producer, which helped parched wheat recover from drought stress, trading house Toepfer said last week.
The better outlook pressured European wheat futures which lost around 7 percent in the past week.
The U.S. National Centers for Environmental Prediction forecast normal to far above normal precipitation in most of Europe in the next week. http://wxmaps.org/pix/prec4.html
As opposed to wheat and barley, spring crops in the early stages of growth, such as maize (corn), would continue to benefit from the rainfall, raising hopes of a catch-up.
French agronomist INRA said on Friday showers should allow forage output to recover following a yield drop of about 50 percent in the first two forage harvests of this year.
Strategie Grains said it had cut its area estimate for France's maize crop but would likely not change its yields much.
RAIN WELCOME, MORE NEEDED
Additional rains would also benefit Britain's wheat crop, analysts said.
"Any rain is still welcome for the UK crops but we definitely need to see more," said Jack Watts, senior analyst with the Home-Grown Cereals Authority.
"It may not revive the crop to yields as much as say the five-year average or the original expectation for the crop but certainly it will have helped relieve some of the concern."
Watts said concerns still centered on the key growing regions of East Anglia and South East England with crops further north and in the west of the country doing "reasonably well."
East Anglia and South East England both had their driest springs for 101 years, according to Britain's Met Office.
In contrast, Scotland had above average rainfall.
Farmers in Spain say unusually heavy rain in recent days which prompted storm alerts in much of the country could damage crops ready for harvesting like barley and durum wheat, but would help ripening soft wheat.
"Rain tends to damage durum above all...and when the heat comes you get diseases you can no longer cure," said Antonio Caton, a crop technician with co-operatives association Cooperativas Agrarias.
"(Soft) wheat isn't ripe yet so rain has been very good for in the most import wheat-growing region, which is Castilla-Leon."
Spain's Secretary of State for Rural Affairs Josep Puxeu predicted Spain's total grain harvest would exceed 20-22 million tonnes, up from 19.7 million last year.
(Additional reporting by Valerie Parent in Paris, Nigel Hunt in London and Martin Roberts in Madrid; editing by Gus Trompiz and Keiron Henderson)