* Early planting campaign in France

* German growers likely to boost plantings this season

* Sowing delays in Russia, Italy

LONDON, - Sugar beet crops across Europe are developing well, although adverse weather delayed sowing in Russia and Italy, beet industry officials said.

In France, sugar beet plants are benefiting from favourable sowing conditions, with no adverse impact so far from the dryness that has been stressing winter grains.

French growers are estimated to have planted more of the crop this year, with the farm ministry putting the area at 391,000 hectares, up 1.9 percent on 2010 and 4 percent above the 2006-10 average.

Like other spring-sown crops, sugar beets had an early and rapid planting campaign, helped by dry weather last month.

The continuation of dry, warm conditions in April has boosted plant growth.

"The lack of water seems to be having little impact on the development of sugar beet for the moment," said Fabienne Maupas of sugar beet institute ITB.

"Growth has been accelerated by high temperatures, and it is five to ten days ahead of last year's, pace depending on the region."

The favourable start to the growing season meant that yield potential is good, but moisture levels in the coming weeks will have a bearing on development, Maupas said.

After dry, hot weather during most of April that has raised concerns about yield losses for wheat, France is forecast to see milder temperatures and showers during the rest of this week.

In Germany, farmers are expected to increase sugar beet plantings this season because of optimism about strong demand, a spokesman for sugar industry association WVZ said.

"It is possible that plantings could rise between 5 to 10 percent, although it is not yet possible to give precise figures," a spokesman said.

German farmers planted 362,000 hectares of sugar beet in the 2010/11 harvest, which has now finished, down by 2,000 hectares from acreage the previous season.

RUSSIA, ITALY, UK, SPAIN

In Russia, the spring sowing campaign has been delayed for some two weeks this year because of a late spring.

Russian farmers had sown 239,600 hectares of land with sugar beet, or 19.9 percent of the targeted area of 1.2 million hectares by April 21, Agriculture Ministry data obtained by Reuters showed. By the same date last year the country had sown 327,500 hectares.

Russian think-tank the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies has said that the country may refine a record volume of beet sugar of 4.2 million tonnes this season if it is able to increase the sowing area.

Last season, hit by a severe drought unrivalled in over a century, Russia refined 2.73 million tonnes of sugar.

In Italy, the sugar beet area dropped to 46,500 hectares in 2011 from 62,266 hectares in 2010, hit by bad weather and by competition from higher-priced cereals and oilseeds, according to Italian sugar beet growers' body ANB.

Bad weather caused sowing delays, and cold spells in northern Italy destroyed some early plantings, ANB's senior technical expert, Emilio Pattaro, told Reuters.

"But what weighs more is high prices of cereals and oilseeds. which have made sugar beet less competitive. Farmers have planted more maize and soya in the north and more durum wheat in the south," Pattaro said.

With sowing finished just about 20 days ago, it is too early to make reliable sugar content forecasts, but sugar output could fall by about 20 percent this year because of a sharp fall in the planted area, he said.

Italy, which has four sugar refineries, produced a total of 554,530 tonnes of sugar in 2010, according to the ANB, using data from statistics agency ISTAT.

In Britain, Associated British Foods, parent company of British Sugar, issued a statement on Wednesday saying plantings had progressed well.

"The planting for the new season has been completed ahead of schedule with acreage in line with expectation," ABF said.

Spanish farmers have finished harvesting the winter sugar beet crop after delays due to heavy rain, and although output has fallen in line with acreage, they say quality has improved.

Official data for the 2010/11 campaign are not yet available, but the Asaja union estimated beet output was down in Spain's main sugar-growing region by 533,000 tonnes to 2.7 million tonnes, while sucrose content was 17.86 percent.

source: futurespros

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