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.
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
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
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."