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Kazakhstan extends revival to FSU grain hopes

Kazakhstan said that its grains harvest had come in at the top end of expectations in the latest sign that former Soviet Union production exceeding forecasts, signalling increased pressure on export markets.

Farm ministry officials in Kazakhstan, Central Asia's biggest grains producer, pegged the domestic harvest at 18.98m tones, a sharp increase on last year's 12.9m-tonne harvest.

In November, Muslim Umiryayev, the Kazakh deputy agriculture minister arrested last month on bribery allegations, pegged the harvest at 18.5m-19.0m tonnes.

The production revival reflects much-improved weather, with crops benefiting from plentiful rains in spring, ensuring a strong start to seedlings, and in the late summer, aiding grain-fill.

Ukraine upgrade

It also represents the latest in a series of fillips for the grains industry in the former Soviet Union, with Ukraine's farm ministry last week raising by 1m tonnes to 33m tonnes its forecast for the country's grains exports in 2013-14.

The upgrade followed a strong start to the season, with shipments for the season up to January 10 up by one-third to 19.9m tonnes, including record monthly shipments of 4.69m tonnes in December, backed by a record autumn harvest of corn.

Exports, which totalled 23m tonnes in 2012-13, reached 1.1m tonnes in the first 10 days of January.

Producers' willingness to sell grains has also been underpinned by strong prospects for 2014 harvests, which consultancy UkrAgroConsult has forecast rising some 6% year on year to 60.1m tonnes.

Record Russian corn volumes

Meanwhile, SovEcon, the Moscow-based analysis group, on Monday forecast that Russia's 2013-14 grain exports will hit 22m tonnes, beating official expectations by 2m tonnes.

Russian grain exports 2013-14 and (year-on-year change)

July: 2.578m tonnes, (+21%)

August: 3.533m tonnes, (+24%)

September: 2.930m tonnes, (-10.5%)

October: 2.521m tonnes, (+4.6%)

November: 2.559m tonnes, (+59%)

December: 2.430mn tonnes, (+12.6%)

Source: SovEcon

The forecast reflects strong supplies of corn, which has grown in the mix compared with the usual staple exports of barley and wheat, lifted by a rise of one-third, to 10.7m tonnes, in this year's harvest.

"A record volume of December corn exports compensated significantly for lower exports of wheat and barley," SovEcon said, pegging Russian corn shipments in the whole season at 3.5m tonnes.

The US Department of Agriculture, whose estimates set world benchmarks, has pegged Russian corn exports in 2013-14 at 2.5m tonnes.

'Just one more cargo'

Former Soviet Union wheat exports have already surprised many observers in their resilience, given relatively modest harvest estimates earlier in the season.

"Russia and the Ukraine which were supposedly just about done on wheat exports, especially of the quality required by Egypt, still seem to be able to find 'just one more cargo'," traders at a major European commodity house said.

The USDA two weeks ago raised by 600,000 tonnes to 52.1m tonnes its estimate for last year's Russian wheat harvest.

However, SovEcon cautioned over getting too upbeat on Russian grain export prospects, saying that "the possibility of an export price reduction for Russian grain remains limited because of high domestic prices.

"Moreover, the cost of grain supply from remote regions, mainly from Siberia, to ports is rising as wheat stocks dwindle in Russia's South," the influential analysis group said.

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