UK returns to net wheat exporter - for now

The UK returned to being a net wheat exporter, helped by the biggest shipments to Spain in more than two years but, following the worst harvest in a generation, it is not expected to retain this status.

The UK, the European Union's third-ranked wheat grower, shipped 224,000 tonnes of the grain in September, a figure not far off that a year before, despite a harvest depleted in both quality and quantity by the wettest summer in a century.

Indeed, the figure was narrowly ahead of wheat imports of 222,600 tonnes during the month, restoring the UK to its typical position of a net exporter of the grain, for the first time in 2012-13.

However, this situation will not last, traders said, given a harvest which came in at its lowest yield in 20 years, and with its lowest bushel weight, a key quality measure, since at least 1977.

'Records absolutely smashed'

The firm September figure was "down to exports sold a long time ago", before the dire state of the UK crop became clear, a trader told

More than half of the shipments, 141,000 tonnes, went to Spain, a big feed importer, whose own crop setbacks, from drought, were evident early in the year, and which in August purchased more than 50,000 tonnes of UK barley.

"Wheat import records are still going to be absolutely smashed" in 2012-13, the trader said, forecasting millers alone bringing in 1.8m tonnes, while some feed imports are calculating too for delivery into northern areas.

On Monday, Carr's Milling Industries, one of the top UK millers, told that it was importing from France, Germany and Sweden on top of it typical Canadian purchases, estimating the UK's total buy-ins for the season at 3m tonnes.

Traders at a major European commodities house said that "most of these  [September] exports were old business committed before harvest.

"Given the current lack of UK export competitiveness this is unlikely to be repeated unless we see a marked fall in UK [price] levels versus the rest of the EU."

Timing factor

The rise in exports was also deemed a reflection of the lateness of the UK harvest, delayed by rains which have persisted to hamper sowings in western areas too, besides hurting plantings in northern France and Ireland too.

Ireland, a country which is looking to hike its dairy industry, but which also suffered a poor harvest, also lifted imports of UK wheat in September, to rank behind the Netherlands and Portugal, besides Spain, among buyers.

However, shipments to buyers outside the European Union fell to 1 tonnes a small trailer load sent to South Africa.

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