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HAMBURG, May 15 (Reuters) - Dry weather is likely to cut Syria's 2014 wheat crop by 18 percent on the year to about 1.97 million tonnes, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a report on Thursday.
The 2014 barley crop in Syria, where an uprising and civil war have been raging since 2011, is likely to fall 65 percent to 0.34 million tonnes, the FAO said.
Syria's poor grains crops are likely to raise the country's import needs in the upcoming July 2014 to June 2015 grains marketing year, the FAO said.
The wheat crop would be 38 percent below the five-year average between 2009 to 2013, the FAO said.
Observers said in April that war and drought had crippled Syria's wheat crop. Some experts now forecast output of the staple food could fall to around a third of pre-war levels, and possibly even below 1 million tonnes for the first time in 40 years.
"In the 2013/14 cropping season the cumulative rainfall during October to April was well below last year and the long-term average," the FAO said. "Some areas experienced significant rainfall deficits ranging from 55 to 85 percent."
Before the war, Syria produced around 3.5 million tonnes of wheat on average, enough to satisfy local demand and usually permit substantial exports, thanks in part to irrigation from the Euphrates river that waters its vast eastern desert.
"The Syrian Arab Republic relies significantly on food imports, which normally account for a large share of the total domestic utilization," the FAO said. "Based on the projected cereal production in 2014, cereal imports are expected to increase in the 2014/15 marketing year (July/June)."
"The latest available data indicates that cereal imports between July 2013 and February 2014 amounted to about 1.3 million tonnes, of which around 890,000 tonnes was wheat." (Reporting by Michael Hogan and Valerie Parent; Editing by Mark Heinrich)