PARIS (Reuters) - Winter cereal crops across continental Europe avoided frost damage during a freezing spell earlier this month and should be spared in the week ahead, the European Union's crop monitoring unit said on Monday.
Below-average temperatures were recorded in most of Europe in the first 10 days of December, with severe frosts in central Europe sending temperatures to as low as minus 18 degrees Celsius, the MARS unit said in a monthly report.
"No frost damage is simulated until now on the basis of our frost kill analysis," it said.
MARS' analysis assessed the level of hardening of crops, with fully hardened winter grains estimated to be able to tolerate temperatures of minus 18 degrees, it said.
"Winter crops are almost or fully hardened in an area from Germany to Belarus and western Ukraine, just as the northern agricultural zones of Europe."
Crops were calculated to have achieved medium-frost tolerance in France, the Benelux, the UK, central Spain, northern Balkan region, Turkey, eastern Ukraine and southern districts of Russia, MARS added.
A cold snap in early 2012 had caused crop damage in western Europe, including unusually large losses in France, the EU's top producer, and rain-delayed sowing this autumn raised concerns that plants would be vulnerable to winter.
On the basis of average weather forecasts, no frost damage was expected in Europe for the period to December 26, MARS said.
The weather outlook for December 13-22 calls for above-average temperatures in western Europe, contrasting with colder-than-usual levels in eastern and northern Europe, with deepest frosts forecast in northern Russia, Belarus and northern Ukraine at lower than minus 20 degrees, it said.
Britain, where heavy rain has cut back sowings of wheat and rapeseed, is facing more wet weather.
The country is part of a swathe of western Europe including France, Spain and western Germany which should see cumulative rainfall 50 mm above the long-term average, MARS said, adding that central England had seen rain 150 mm above the average in the November 21-December 10 period.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; editing by Jason Neely)