'Record demand' stokes UK wheat import prospects

Farm officials raised estimates for UK wheat imports to levels expected for Saudi Arabia, warning that the long spell of poor weather, which devastated last year's harvest, was only fuelling record levels of consumption.

The UK farm ministry, Defra, raised by 144,000 tonnes to 2.19m tonnes its forecast for the country's wheat buy-ins in 2012-13, noting that "import progress continues apace".

Customs data showed imports topping 1m tonnes in the first five months of the marketing year, which began in July, "already ahead of full-season imports in 2011-12, and the fastest progress since 1993-94".

The upgraded forecast implies UK imports in line with those of Saudi Arabia, the desert kingdom which has rowed back on irrigating crops from boreholes, and ahead of those forecast for the likes of Thailand and Venezuela by benchmark US crop data.

'Record consumption levels'

The need for extra imports reflected in part a further downgrade to ideas of last year's wheat harvest, which was pegged at 13.261m tonnes, down by 49,000 tonnes on the previous estimate, and by 2.0m tonnes year on year.

However, Defra flagged too that the extent of wheat imports reflected "record UK consumption levels", which were showing "little evidence that strong prices are dampening demand".

The restart of the Ensus bioethanol plant, and the launch of the nearby Vivergo site, were in part responsible for the resilient consumption.

"Year-on-year increases in bioethanol and distilling capacity more than compensate for some diversion of wheat demand to maize (corn)," the ministry said.

Wet weather factor

The ministry also raised by 58,000 tonnes to 3.45m tonnes its forecast for use by compound feed makers, noting the continuation of the wet weather which, having blighted last year's harvest and autumn sowings periods, was now threatening spring farm schedules too.

"Variable forage availability and quality, earlier housing of livestock, and lower availability of home-grown grain are all supportive of compound [feed] demand," Defra said.

"With no relief from poor weather to date, this higher trend is forecast through to the spring."

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