US foreign staff have, again, challenged official estimates
of a bumper Chinese wheat harvest last year, citing disease damage, and
cautioned that ideas of the corn crop may be too high too.
The US Department of Agriculture's Beijing bureau restated an estimate made in November that China's wheat harvest fell by more than 9m tonnes last year, to 108.0m
tonnes, "due to head blight", or fusarium, outbreaks in major growing provinces
such as Anhui, Henan and Hubei.
The estimate is more than 12m tonnes below the USDA's
official estimate, which is in turn in line with the figure from China's own National
Bureau of Statistics of 120.58m tonnes.
And the bureau cited as evidence of the squeeze on wheat
supplies a rise in prices of some 9% rise to 2,360 remninbi a tonne in Chinese
wheat prices between August and January, quoting data from analysis group JCI.
"This is a strong indication that wheat production and total
available supplies are lower than Chinese official production estimates," the
bureau said in a report.
Chicago wheat prices fell by more than 10% over the same
'High levels of
Some commentators have noted, in defending ideas of a higher
wheat crop, the relatively low rate of Chinese imports, which the USDA bureau
acknowledged could fall nearly 15%, to 2.0m tonnes, in 2012-13.
However, the report also flagged the impact of sales from
state wheat reserves in cushioning the impact of last year's poor harvest,
especially on quality shortfalls given that these sales are largely of crop
from previous years rather than 2012 crop of which "some still may be infect
with head blight".
Indeed, the "possibility of high levels" of vomitoxin - a
toxic residue from fusarium infections - in last year's crop has prompted Chinese
officials to order state grain companies "to strictly follow domestic safety
standards while purchasing wheat".
The impact of last year's poor crop may not be felt until
further ahead, if the 2013 harvest also disappoints, forcing Chinese
authorities to turn to turn to stored 2012 crop, with its vomitoxin risk.
"If 2013-14 production is less than expected or suffers from
a similar disease outbreak, depending on how much of the 2012-13 wheat crop may
be infected with head blight and comprise current reserve levels, there is a
possibility that China may need to further increase imports in order to meet
'Pests, typhoon and
The data dispute is the latest in a series of wranglings
over the accuracy of Chinese harvest statistics, which critics claim tend to
offer inflated estimates thanks to a subsidy programme which rewards regional
authorities by output, so encouraging over-reporting.
Typically, the spotlight has fallen on discrepancies in corn
– in which China's balance sheet is particularly important to markets given the
country's likely move from being self-sufficient to a perennial importer, and
USDA estimates on Monday forecast Chinese corn imports
growing from 2.0m tonnes this season to 19.5m tonnes in a decade's time,
overtaking the likes of Japan and Mexico to become the world;s top buyer.
The bureau estimated last year's Chinese corn crop at 200m
tonnes, up 4.2% year on year, but 8m tonnes below the official USDA number.
"According to agricultural sources, yields in some areas
were affected by factors such as army worm outbreaks, a typhoon and drought,"
the report said.