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UK wheat exports lowest in at least 23 years

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This season's UK wheat exports are to prove the lowest in at least 23 years, farm officials said, in a report which also showed unusually strong barley demand, and further raised the estimate for record-breaking corn imports.

The UK, the European Union's third-ranked wheat grower, will export 450,000 tonnes of the grain in 2013-14, farm ministry Defra said in its first estimate for shipments.

Exports at this level would represent a decline of 39% on last season, itself a weak period for shipments after the poor quality of the 2012 harvest, damaged by the second wettest year on record, left much of it unfit even for feed without mixing with higher quality grain.

The Defra data rule out exports this season exceeding the 577,837 tonnes, set in 2001-02, currently the lowest on readily accessible records going back to 1992-93.

And they show the UK, typically a net wheat exporter, remaining a net importer for the second successive season, by an estimated 1.48m tonnes, with the forecast for imports upgraded by 130,000 tonnes to 1.93m tonnes following data showing a revival in volumes.

This season, the dearth of exports reflects a harvest low on quantity, rather than quality, after the wet autumn in 2012 curtailed sowings of winter wheat and prompted many farmers to switch to spring crops such as barley.

Wheat vs barley

Data for the first nine months of 2013-14, to March, show UK exports reaching 353,476 tonnes, with shipments to other European Union countries particularly depressed, a reflection in part of a warmer winter which reduced the need for feed wheat.

Overall UK cereals usage for animal rations is seen easing some 0.4% year on year, with "strong demand" from dairy farmers, attempting to maximise milk production at a time of elevated prices, not quite offsetting "a decline in feed demand due to better weather conditions", the HGCA crop bureau said.

Wheat use in livestock feed is seen tumbling 11.6% to 6.04m tonnes, a bigger decline than previously expected, thanks to "displacement by more competitively-priced grains".

UK livestock producers will feed 3.58m tonnes of barley to their animals this season - a gain of 9.7% year on year, reflecting the grain's price discount, after higher sowings showed up in a strong harvest last year.

Record corn imports

Livestock farmers are also increasingly using corn, for which use in feed is seen hitting 1.29m tonnes, up 23% year on year and twice the long-term average.

Corn has become increasingly popular in part thanks to the growing availability of supplies from Ukraine, which has grown into the world's third-ranked exporter of the grain.

UK imports of corn were pegged at 2.18m tonnes, an upgrade of 170,000 tonnes from the previous estimate of 2.01m tonnes, itself a record, and up 29% year on year.

Inventories drop

The UK looks like ending 2013-14 with wheat stocks of 1.76m tonnes, down 19% year on year, the Defra data showed

However, some traders believe the figure could turn out even lower, with some ideas that last year's harvest was even smaller than the official estimate of 11.92m tonnes.


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