Summer rain has benefited maize crops in much of the European Union and should keep production above last year's drought-hit level, despite a decline in planting and persistent dryness in southeast Europe, analysts said.
The size of the maize harvest, mostly used for livestock feed, will shape the EU's supply needs as it debates whether to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain being sold in eastern EU states.
Consultancy Strategie Grains on Thursday raised its forecast for the EU's 2023 maize crop by nearly 1 million metric tons to 59.6 million, now more than 7 million tons above 2022's 15-year low.
That contrasted with downward revisions by Strategie Grains and other observers in recent months after European grain belts endured drought, heatwaves and flooding.
Summer showers, which disrupted wheat harvesting, have boosted yield potential for maize as farmers start to bring in the crop.
In France, the farm ministry on Tuesday increased its monthly forecast for grain maize production by about 300,000 tons to 11.2 million, now 5% above 2022.
Heavy mid-summer rain helped non-irrigated maize and an exceptional September heatwave in western Europe last week may help crops mature.
"For crops in the fields, the hot spell with the sunshine will accelerate growth after the cool, wet summer period," Benoit Pietrement, a farmer and head of the grain committee of farm office FranceAgriMer, told reporters.
Farmers had harvested 1% of the maize area by 11 September, FranceAgriMer data showed.
Ample rain has also improved prospects in Germany and Poland and Strategie Grains said production could surpass last year's level in Germany and stay at a high level in Poland.
Germany harvested 3.8 million tons of grain maize and Poland about 8 million tons last year.
In Hungary, the farm ministry expects production at 5.8 million tons in a rebound from last year's drought-decimated crop of 2.8 million.
However, improved prospects in Hungary will be capped by an estimated record low for planting and potentially by a dry August in the Great Plain region, Strategie Grains said.
Maize growers across Europe have been discouraged by last year's poor harvest and rising costs for inputs like fertiliser, with France's farm ministry estimating the country's crop area at its lowest since the 1980s.
Drought in Spain this year, meanwhile, led farmers to cut back on maize planting in anticipation of irrigation limits.
In southeast Europe, drought has persisted in parts of Bulgaria and Romania.
"Our maize crop was hit very badly by the drought, but not as badly as in the previous season," Cezar Gheorghe of Romanian grain market consultancy AGRIColumn said.
The consultancy currently estimates the crop between 10.5 million and 11 million tons, compared with its initial forecast of 14 million, he said.
Romania harvested about 8 million tons last year, a decade low, amid severe drought.