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French wheat export forecast raised again as no virus impact seen


Farm office FranceAgriMer increased its forecast for French soft wheat exports outside the European Union this season for the sixth month in a row, saying it saw no immediate impact from a coronavirus outbreak on brisk demand for French supplies.


The office now expects France, the EU’s biggest grain producer, to ship 12.7m tonnes of soft wheat outside the bloc in the 2019-20 season to June 30, it said in a cereal supply and demand outlook on Wednesday.


That compares to a projection of 12.6m tonnes last month. The revised wheat export forecast was 31% above last season’s volume.


An acceleration in wheat loadings at French ports also fed into the increased export outlook, officials said.


Cargoes of French wheat and barley have continued to arrive in southern China, where ports have not faced restrictions seen in other Chinese regions due to the coronavirus emergency since January, they said.


"For France, things have continued to flow normally," Benoit Pietrement, president of FranceAgriMer’s grain committee, told reporters. "The concern for exports is if vessels were to be quarantined."


French grain exporters were now waiting to see if Chinese demand for malting barley would ease in the coming months after a decline in beer consumption during the virus crisis, he added.


The grain industry was also monitoring the situation in Italy, which imports French wheat, durum and maize, FranceAgriMer officials said, adding there were not yet signs of disruption to trade from the rapid spread of the disease there.


In France, industry representatives had reported plans to expand durum semolina production to respond to increased demand for pasta since February, FranceAgriMer said, though it did not yet have figures.


Pasta shelves in some French supermarkets have been emptied in recent days as some households stock up on groceries out of fear of a coronavirus lockdown.


French export prospects could be curbed by a strengthening in the euro against the dollar, which has been one effect of market volatility triggered by the coronavirus, Marc Zribi, head of FranceAgriMer’s grain unit, said.


The office kept its estimate of soft wheat stocks at the end of the 2019-20 at 2.4m tonnes, as a reduced outlook for animal feed demand offset the higher export forecast.


It lowered its estimate of French 2019-20 barley ending stocks to 1.8m tonnes from 2.0m, as it increased intra-EU exports.


It also raised its expectations for corn stocks to 2.3m tonnes from 2.2m, partly due to reduced demand from a starch factory due to close this year.

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