UK wheat imports fell in October, but not by much despite the
much improved quality of the domestic harvest, raising concerns over an
"addiction" by mills to foreign supplies gained after last year's disaster
The UK, historically the European Union's third-ranked wheat
exporter, imported 221,190 tonnes of the grain in October, customs data showed.
That represented a small decline, of some 24,000 tonnes on
the September figure, but remained unusually large, far exceeding October
exports of 51,312 tonnes.
Indeed, the figure surprised many investors, who had
expected a sharp drop-off in buy-ins after a strong summer, which reflected
forward purchases by UK flour millers for early 2013-14 needs, amid forecasts
of a small UK crop.
'A bit of a taste for
In fact, while the UK harvest was small - at 12.1m tonnes
the lowest since 2001 - it was of above-average quality, raising expectations
that millers would return to domestic supplies.
The poor quality of the harvest in 2012, amid the
second-wettest year for the UK on record, left them with no option last season
but to turn to the likes of Germany for milling wheat.
"Today's data questions whether they have got a bit of a
taste for foreign wheat," a UK grains trader told Agrimoney.com.
"Some have been saying it is more consistent, which is what
you need if you are trying to produce thousands of cup cakes of identical size."
The data implied that UK wheat "may need to become more
competitive in price to work its way back into the grist", the trader said.
In fact, January wheat futures stood unchanged at £164.55 a
tonne in afternoon deals in London.
Another trader at a major merchant said that switch over to
UK supplies had only "really started" in October, implying that the drop-off in
imports would be witnessed in November data.
"They are working on full English now, the premium [for
imports] is too big," the trader said.
October imports may also have been boosted by demand from Scottish
"For the northern boys, I believe they still have covered
from imports through October as well."
Thursday's data showed UK imports of wheat from the hard
milling wheat origins of Canada, at 29,793 tonnes, and Germany, at 44,253
tonnes, although purchases from France, a source of soft wheat, did decline
strongly, to an 11-month low of 26,078 tonnes.
Unusually, the UK also bought in 69,264 tonnes of wheat in
On the feed side, imports of corn also remained firm, at
nearly 130,000 tonnes.
And buy-ins of rapeseed, of which the country is also
usually a net exporter, soared above 56,000 tonnes in October – more than the
UK typically imports in a whole season.
Bumper barley exports
However, in barley, the UK did recover historical export
strength, with shipments topping 200,000 tonnes in October for the first month
in nearly 15 years.
"I think with strong crops elsewhere on the way, in the
likes of Australia and Canada, people were keen to get shot of barley while
they could," the trader said.
The figure included 93,678 tonnes shipped to Saudi Arabia,
where barley is popular as a livestock feed, and which is by far the biggest
importer of the grain.