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Rapeseed crops in western Europe seen vulnerable to frost

* Frost a risk due fast growth in autumn, little snow cover

* Germany, Britain faced bug damage due to EU pesticide ban

* EU harvest to fall 11 pct from 2014 record -Strategie Grains

By Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Rapeseed crops in western Europe are developing generally well but a mild autumn which boosted plant growth and bug attacks has left them vulnerable to frost damage, mainly in Germany and Britain, analysts and experts said on Thursday.

French consultancy Strategie Grains on Thursday put the 2015 rapeseed crop in the 28-member European Union at 21.5 million tonnes, more than 11 percent below last year's record harvest.

Rapeseed is the most widely grown oilseed crop in the EU and is used to make edible oils, biodiesel fuel and animal feed.

In Germany, the bloc's largest rapeseed grower, farmers face an anxious time this winter, analysts said.

"Everything is looking fine at the moment but a sudden cold snap could bring the danger of heavy damage," one said.

German rapeseed also suffered unusually high levels of insect damage this autumn following an EU ban on controversial insecticides known as neonicotinoids, which have been linked to a drop in bee numbers and were widely used on rapeseed crops.

"The level of damage is unclear but it looks like being considerable in some areas," the analyst said. "This would also make plants more susceptible to frosts."

German farmers cut the winter rapeseed area for the 2015 harvest by 5.8 percent on the year to 1.3 million hectares, official figures showed in December.


In France, where the farm ministry pegged a 1 percent fall in area, plants were developing well, with no excessive bug damage and cold weather that came in time to halt quick growth during autumn, experts said.

"Cold weather did not do any damage, it actually reinforced plants," Fabien Lagarde from French oilseed institute Cetiom said. "Even (Taiwan OTC: 6436.TWO - news) if there are big cold spells they will resist."

It was too early to give yield forecasts but Lagarde said the potential to reach high levels remained intact so far.

In Britain, cabbage stem flea beetles caused some early losses but crops which survived were in good general condition.

"Where cabbage stem flea beetle was not a problem or well controlled by foliar sprays, they germinated and established rapidly. Some crops are quite large plants but so far have come through the winter well," said analyst Susan Twining of crop consultants ADAS.

The rapeseed area in Britain is expected to be down by four to five percent, she added. About one third was due to the cabbage stem flea beetle. (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Michael Hogan in Hamburg and Nigel Hunt in London, editing by David Evans)