WASHINGTON (DTN)--The current spell of cold weather across western Europe will probably not damage the region's grain crops and could benefit plants by killing diseases and insects, traders and agronomists said this week, according to .

"These temperatures should certainly be welcomed more than feared," John Garstang, agronomist with leading UK crop consultancy ADAS, told .

"It (the cold) has been useful. It will have cut back on mildew, which has been a persistent nuisance, and it has removed lower leaves on both cereals and oilseed rape, which can carry disease. It's also reduced pests like aphids," he said.

A French grain trader agreed, saying temperatures had to drop much more before they began posing a threat to crops like winter barley and wheat.

"It's not the minus fours and minus fives that cause problems. Temperatures have to get down to minus 15, minus 20 (degrees Centigrade) for there to be a danger," he said.

"We actually prefer this to mild weather and no freeze because this kills disease without harming the crop."

Even in some of the colder parts of western Europe, such as Germany, analysts said there was no cause for alarm so far.

An analyst with independent German agricultural agency ZMP said a blanket of snow was helping to insulate crops from temperatures of -17 degrees C and below in parts of southern and eastern Germany, thereby preventing winterkill. Winterkill is a general term for heavy damage or outright death to the plant from cold weather.

"Germany's cold winters can cause considerable winterkill but the areas...experiencing the coldest weather have good snow cover which is protecting crops," the ZMP analyst said.

"We have had no reports of any significant winterkill although you have to say this is difficult to see through snow cover. Regions with low snow cover in the center and north of the country have higher temperatures and no damage has been observed. Overall things are looking good," he added.

Another analyst put the current German cold snap in perspective, saying it was only about one to three degrees below the long-year average temperature for this week.

"Up to the third week of December temperatures were mild and plantings had developed well before they seasonally stopped growing," the second analyst said.

A leading Spanish warehouser and grower had a similar attitude to snow that has fallen in the high central plains of the Castille-Leon grainbelt.

"We say that a year of snow is a good year. We even prefer it, because the ground absorbs thawing snow and allows roots to grow," he said.

A U.S. forecaster, WSC, described the current climate in western Europe as "generally favorable" for the wheat crop.

WSC said there was a chance for light precipitation in France and Germany on Sunday or Monday, with temperatures averaging near to below normal during the period.

Most of France, the largest grain producer in Europe, has seen temperatures hovering around the freezing point over the past week.

Another U.S. forecaster, the Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES), said it expected temperatures in most of the eastern half of France to be between zero and two degrees C colder than normal between January 3-13.

It said the western half of the country should see temperatures between zero and two degrees warmer than normal during the same time period.

The one exception to the rosy forecasts was in Italy, which was in the grip of freezing temperatures.

Italian traders said grain production could fall if the current trend of much colder weather than normal continues and farmers fail to lay fertilizer at the end of this month.

"If there is a delay of 20 to 25 days before farmers can put down fertilizer, there could be a reduction in wheat production," one north Italian trader said.

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