UK wheat imports began the year where they ended off 2012 –
on a strong note, amid growing expectations of the need for considerable
purchases next season too given poor harvest prospects.
The UK imported 269,676 tonnes of wheat in January, down
some 12% month on month, but still nearly four times the volume bought in a
The figure reflected the continuing hangover from last year's
rain-beset crop, marked by the worst yield in 20 years and the lowest bushel
weight since at least 1977, which forced millers to seek quality wheat abroad,
and forced feed groups to buy foreign corn as an alternative.
January corn imports, at 173,381 tonnes, were nearly double
the level of a year before.
Worst January for
However, the UK – the European Union's third biggest wheat
producer, and typically a net exporter - has now imported 1.61m tonnes of the grain
so far in 2012-13, three times as much as it had shipped out.
Indeed, January wheat exports, at 18,036 tonnes, were the lowest
for the month on records going back 20 years, and the third worst for any month
during that period.
And the UK looks set for hefty imports in 2013-14 too, given
the poor start to the winter crop, which forms the great bulk of production,
with sowings officially estimated down 25%, as of the start of December.
'Quality again in
Strategie Grains on Thursday downgraded by 300,000 tonnes,
to 12.1m tonnes, its forecast for the UK soft wheat harvest this year, citing the
official sowings data, estimating total seedings at 1.62m hectares.
And many analysts foresee a smaller crop.
"Although we expect, weather permitting, a slight increase
in plantings post December 1, this very low [official plantings] estimate would
point to a final UK wheat area of approximately 1.55m hectares," Jonathan Lane,
trading manager at grain merchant Gleadell, said.
"Even using a five-year average yield projection, this would
produce a UK wheat crop 1.6m tonnes lower than in 2012, with quality again in
That figures implies a harvest of less than 11.7m tonnes.
At FCStone, Jaime Nolan Miralles said: "It looks like
another low year for UK wheat production this year. How it does on quality we
will have to wait and see."
Imports again in
The UK consumes an average of 13.7m tonnes of wheat a year,
according to official data, although that figure is likely to rise, after the
opening of a second wheat ethanol plant, consuming roughly 1m tonnes of wheat a
Defra, the UK farm ministry, pegs domestic consumption in
2012-13 at 14.6m tonnes.
Its exports have historically averaged 2.55m tonnes, with
some of its Grade 3 soft wheats, for instance, prized by biscuit makers on the Continent,
besides bread-and-butter feed wheat shipments to the likes of Spain, supplies
which may be increasingly diverted to making biofuel.
The dynamics would appear to leave the UK facing hefty wheat
imports in 2013-14 too, although of which grades will become more apparent as
the season progresses.
The extent of area left to sow is expected to prompt
unusually large sowings of spring wheat, which tends to be of higher quality,
although lower yield, than winter grain.
In January, Germany once again topped the bill as the origin
of UK wheat imports, topping 100,000 tonnes for a second successive month,
although purchases from Canada, another source of high protein milling wheat,
fell back to 20,836 tonnes.
In December, UK imports from Canada topped 55,000 tonnes.
Imports from France, a source of softer milling wheat, were unusually
high in January, reaching 61,393 tonnes, more than double the December figure.