Warm weather and showers since last month have put Europe on course for good barley yields this summer, with the timing of the harvest a key issue as crops recover from a cold start to spring, analysts and traders said.
"Across Europe, the situation looks better than last year," Brent Atthill, head of consultancy RMI Analytics, said of barley crops.
"There is no excess heat in weather forecasts and moisture levels are good, so everyone is confident we're coasting to the finishing line."
Reflecting favourable growing conditions, consultancy Strategie Grains and the U.S. Department of Agriculture each raised their forecast of 2021 European Union barley production in separate reports on Thursday.
Higher yields could offset a decline in spring barley area this year after farmers shifted back towards winter crops.
Barley is used both for beer ingredient malt and in livestock feed. A large European crop could help supply increasing Chinese feed grain imports and recovering beer demand as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
It was too early to judge crop quality, which affects suitability for malt, but early signs in Europe were encouraging, analysts said.
In France, the farm ministry on Tuesday projected a 19% jump in winter barley production this year, driven by increased yields, while weekly crop ratings from farming agency FranceAgriMer show improvements since cold, dry spells in April and early May.
With temperatures expected to reach 30 degrees Celsius (86°F) in much of France in the coming days, traders say storms forecast for the middle of next week should bring moisture and milder heat to avert crop stress.
The warm weather could reduce a lag in plant growth of about one week currently that has cast doubt over whether initial harvesting will happen before July.
In Germany, crops are also in good condition and summery weather could let barley crops catch up on delays.
"If we have normal weather in coming weeks without extended rain I would expect harvesting to start in the usual timeframe in early south German regions around 5 July, with more widespread harvesting around 15 July," one German analyst said.
Germany's winter barley crop will increase 1.5% on the year to 8.97 million tonnes, despite a reduced area, the German farm cooperatives forecast last month.
The condition of Polish barley "is more than satisfactory", said Wojtek Sabaranski of analysts Sparks Polska.
Depending on June weather, farmers could begin winter barley cuttings in mid-July, compared with the typical first half of July start, he said.
Poland's total barley crop may rise about 2% to 3.8 million tonnes, including 2.6-2.7 million of spring barley, Sabaranski forecast.
In Britain, barley conditions have also improved, helped by May rain.
"The general consensus is that we are heading for an average to good crop this year," said Vikki Campbell, senior analyst at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, adding disease levels were low.
Analysts are expecting UK barley production to fall to about 7 million tonnes from 8.1 million last year, reflecting a drop in spring barley area.