Russia was promoted by US officials to top rank in world wheat exports thanks to an upgrade to its expected harvest close to a record high, while French and Spanish woes dented hopes for the European Union crop.
The US Department of Agriculture, in its much-anticipated Wasde report on world crop supply and demand, pegged Russian wheat exports in 2017-18 at 30.5m tonnes – an upgrade of 1.5m tonnes and a clear record high.
The revision also took Russia's shipments 500,000 tonnes above those of the European Union, which had been expected to be the world's largest exporter this season, with US volumes, pegged at 26.34m tonnes, a distant third.
This would be the first time that Russia, often a big wheat importer during Soviet times, would take top rank among exporters, on USDA estimates. While the country has previously been hailed as top exporter, it has failed to realise such aspirations, because of factors such as logistical hiccups.
The Russia upgrade reflected improved hopes for the country's harvest, with the USDA raising by 3.0m tonnes to 72.0m tonnes its forecast for production, leaving it only 500,000 tonnes behind last year's record result.
"Growing conditions to date are similar to last year, when Russia achieved record yields," the USDA said, flagging "continued excellent conditions for winter wheat in the Southern district and North Caucasus district, which together account for about 60% of the country's winter wheat output".
Meanwhile, satellite data indicate that "early-season conditions for spring wheat are excellent", tallying with "the beneficial precipitation during May and June throughout the Volga, Ural, and western Siberian districts".
By contrast, the forecast for European Union exports was trimmed by 500,000 tonnes to 30.0m tonnes.
The downgrade reflected a cut of 750,000 tonnes to 150.0m tonnes in the forecast for Europe's harvest, "on smaller expected crops in Spain and France".
Meanwhile, the forecast for exports from the US, the top shipper last season, was downgraded by 680,000 tonnes to 26.54m tonnes, reflecting cuts to hopes for the country's spring wheat and durum harvests, "primarily due to severe drought conditions affecting the northern Plains".
By Mike Verdin