Quest for milling grain revives UK wheat imports

UK wheat imports revived, appearing to fulfil a forecast from Carr's Milling Industries of a late-season recovery, as a dearth of domestic supplies forced flour mills particularly to keep buying abroad.

The UK, the European Union's third-ranked wheat producer, imported 126,201 tonnes of the grain in March, a three-month high, customs data showed.

Indeed, imports were 54% higher than in February, and exceeded exports for a 22nd successive month, this time by more than 25,000 tonnes.

Typically, the UK is a net wheat exporter. However, its shipments continued to feel the hangover from 2012, the second wettest year on record for the country.

The rains which destroyed the quality of the 2012 harvest and, in hampering severely autumn sowings, cut the quantity of the 2013 crop, although this was of markedly improved quality.

'Very good in the grist'

Indeed, UK milling wheat from last year is proving "very good in the grist", a grain trader told

"But millers just can't get hold of it, so they have gone out and brought it in from abroad."

Pricing at the time offered no penalty for choosing imports over domestic supplies, while the dearth of domestic supplies has only enhanced suspicions that last year's domestic crop was even smaller than the 11.92m tonnes suggested by official data, the smallest harvest in more than a decade.

Carr's Milling Industries a month ago forecast that UK wheat imports would see a late-season revival.

Origins showing a large rise in March in wheat exports to the UK included Germany, a major source of bread-making high protein wheat, from where volumes jumped to 32,120 tonnes from 13,097 tonnes in February.

Price dynamics

The trader added that the competitiveness of domestic wheat had improved over the last two weeks, over which farmgate prices for milling wheat had been fallen some 8% below £190 a tonne.

On London's futures market, the front May contract, soon to expire, has fallen 7.6% over the past fortnight, while the better-traded new crop November lot has lost 3.6%.

The weakness reflects - besides lower prices in other  wheat markets, and the strength of sterling - the prospect of an early UK harvest, cutting late-2013-14 competition for supplies.

With the UK consuming nearly 14m tonnes of wheat a year, equivalent to more than 260,000 tonnes a week, cutting a fortnight off the harvest could in theory cut reliance on old-crop supplies by more than 500,000 tonnes.

Production prospects

"So far, we are looking at a very good UK harvest," the trader added, foreseeing the potential for a step down in wheat prices.

The US Department of Agriculture on Friday forecast UK production of 15.15m tonnes this year, on a 20% revival in sowings to 19.5m hectares, and a 6.0% rise in the yield to 7.77 tonnes per hectare.

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