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UK reveals high wheat export need to avoid build in stocks

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The UK will need its best wheat export performance in six years to work off the supplies brought by this year's bumper harvest, despite the increasing amounts of the grain heading into ethanol plants.

Defra, the UK farm ministry, in its first full forecasts for the domestic wheat balance sheet in 2014-15, estimated at 3.48m tonnes the UK's exportable wheat surplus.

The country has, this century, only once shipped that level of wheat, in 2008-09, when it exported 3.52m tonnes – and that season started far more strongly than this one, which has seen only 292,135 tonnes exported over the first three months.

That implies the UK exporting more than 3m tonnes of wheat in the last nine months of the marketing year to avoid a build-up in inventories, which would have negative implications for prices - a feat not achieved since 1997-98.

In fact, there is talk of UK wheat shipments picking up pace, boosted by sales to some unusual destinations, including the US, which has taken some feed wheat, and talk of milling grain heading for North Africa too.

"We need to get exports to 1.2m-1.3m tonnes by Christmas" to avoid a stocks build-up, one grain trader told Agrimoney.com.

'Quality and well as quantity'

The large exportable surplus reflects the 39% jump to 16.6m tonnes in UK wheat production this year, a rise reflecting in part the poor 2013 result, which was hit by a poor autumn sowing conditions, but also strong growing conditions.

"This year's crop was one of quality and well as quantity," said the HGCA's crop bureau, which assists Defra with its estimates.

The surplus would be even higher were it not for a rise of nearly 400,00 tonnes, to 7.81m tonnes, in the amount of wheat forecast for food and industrial use – an increase which reflects growing use of the grain in making ethanol, offsetting reduced needs by flour millers.

"The extraction rate for flour output is expected to be higher this season, meaning that less wheat will be required to produce the same amount of flour," the HGCA said.

"However, lower demand from the milling sector is offset by higher usage by the UK's bioethanol plants which are currently working at improved rates compared with last season."

Ethanol demand

Indeed, the Vivergo plant, backed by groups including Associated British Foods, BP and DuPont, is running "nearly at full capacity", a spokesperson told Agrimoney.com.

Vivergo has capacity for consuming 1.1m tonnes of feed wheat per year, to produce 420m litres of ethanol, equivalent to about half the UK's needs, and up to 500,000 tonnes of animal feed byproducts.

The nearby Ensus plant, which is of a similar size, is believed to be running at a high level too, supported by ethanol margins which, for November and December, offer strong returns, if with prices further ahead suggesting reduced profitability.

However, it is unclear if the plant is still running solely on wheat, as it was last month, or whether it has returned to putting some corn into the mix – a potentially cheaper option, but one which can reduce the value of the feed byproduct, for which buyers covet a constant consistency.

Earlier in the summer, price differentials prompted Ensus to run on a mixture solely of barley and corn, sources have told Agrimoney.com.

Corn prospects

In fact, Defra forecast a sharp drop-off in UK corn imports in 2014-15 - by 53% to a three-year low of 1.13m tonnes – as the greater availability of home-grown feed wheat, and barley, reduces its appeal.

UK feed use of corn is expected to tumble by 40% to 757,000 tonnes, with industrial use – such as making ethanol – pegged at 600,000 tonnes, down 10% year on year.

By Agrimoney.com

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