UK wheat imports could exceed the recent high set five years ago thanks to the
poor quantity and quality of this year's crop, of which only 4% of supplies from
top-grade varieties reached top milling standards.
The UK, the European Union's third-ranked wheat producer,
and usually a firm net exporter, imported 1.44m tonnes of grain in 2007-08, the
last "comparable season" to this one, the HGCA crop bureau said.
However, even though the harvest that year in quantity fell
short even of the 13.5m-14.2m tonnes expected from this year's crop, thanks to a
drop in seedings, it was better on quality.
Furthermore, "demand in 2007-08 was around 500,000 tonnes
lower than current levels", HGCA market specialists analyst Charlotte Garbutt
Demand is being whetted in part by the poor quality of this
year's crop, of which only 4% of Group 1 varieties have met the full milling
specification this year, compared with 40% last year.
For Group 3 soft wheat, biscuit grade grain above the Group
4 feed level, 16% ticked all the boxes, compared with 73% in 2011.
These shortfalls imply "increased wheat consumption by the
milling sector to compensate for poorer flour extraction rates", Ms Garbutt
Furthermore, demand is being whetted by the restart of the
Ensus bioethanol plant, which swallows some 100,000 tonnes of wheat a month,
with the nearby Vivergo site, of similar capacity, set to open later this year.
Making up the gap in supplies means "it is possible that
2012-13 imports will be some of the highest in recent years", Ms Garbutt said.
It 2011-12, the UK imported 867,170 tonnes of wheat, compared
with exports of 2.39m tonnes, according to customs data.
However, there are already signs of buoyant UK demand for
foreign supplies, with the country in July, the first month of 2012-13, a net importer, by more than 100,000 tonnes.
Trade talk has mentioned a particular UK demand for high
grade milling wheat, largely sourced in Germany, with some softer grades
purchased from Scandinavia, and potentially even working from the US.
There is also speculation of potential imports of Ukrainian
corn to replace wheat in feed.