SOFIA, July 31 (Reuters) – Extensive rains in July have hit Bulgaria’s wheat sowings and are likely to cut its 2018 crop to about 5.5 million tonnes, with average yields down some 7 percent from a year ago, a senior official at the agriculture ministry said on Tuesday.

In June, the ministry hoped that the wheat crop would match last year’s bumper crop of 6.1 million tonnes.

Operational data from the agriculture ministry shows the Black Sea country had reaped 4.95 million tonnes of wheat from 90 percent of the sown area by July 27, Petar Kirovski, an expert at the ministry, told Reuters. Average yields stood at 4.9 tonnes per hectare, some 7 percent less than a year ago.

“The crop will be less than last year, at about 5.5 million tonnes, because of the rains that ruined some of the fields and have had a negative impact on the quality as well,” Kirovski said.

Farmers are less optimistic, seeing the 2018 wheat crop at about 5.2-5.3 million tonnes.

“The plantings were first hit by drought in April. That was followed by daily rain showers in July that lowered both the quantity and the quality of the wheat,” said Angel Vukadinov of the National Grain Producer Association.

Farmers have reaped some 497,300 tonnes of barley out of 97 percent of the sown area. The barley crop is expected to be around 500,000-510,000 tonnes this year, less than the 586,000 tonnes harvested last year, mainly due to less acreage, Kirovski said.

Bulgaria is a net grain exporter and has shipped more than 4.6 million tonnes of wheat abroad since last July, agriculture ministry data showed.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Catherine Evans)