December 30, 2011
Black Sea grain export prospects fade
Black Sea region's tight grip over international grain trade may come to an end as Russia's hopes for its shipments were overblown, while Romania's are being held back by drought fears.
Russia's 2011-12 grain exports, which deputy agriculture Minister Alexander Solovyov said earlier this month would be "no less than 25 million tonnes", look like coming in at 22.6 million tonnes, USDA attaches in Moscow said.
The forecast reflected growing rivalry on international markets, which have left Russia, the price leader for the early months of the season, undercut by South American supplies being cleared to make way for production from the ongoing harvest.
"In November 2011, price competition in the world grain markets increased with low-priced Argentine wheat entering key Mediterranean markets," the attaches said.
Algeria on Wednesday bought 250,000-300,000 tonnes of wheat, thought to be of South American origin.
Russia's ability to respond with further price cuts had been limited by "rather strong" domestic demand, the start of a government intervention programme to support the market, and by the expense of getting distant grain to port, now that more accessible supplies had been run down.
In Romania, a strong start to exports which saw the country notch up notable wins in wheat tenders by Egypt, the top importer had been curtailed by "continuing drought", which in curtailing prospects for the 2012 harvest had raised hopes of higher prices ahead.
"Bearing in mind the ongoing drought, farmers showed lower interest in selling wheat, and may intend to carry it over into the next marketing year," the USDA's Bucharest office said.
Rainfall of roughly half normal levels had limited winter wheat sowings to 1.7 million hectares, 200,000 hectares behind the figure a year before which was it considered a weak total.
"In parts of the southern regions, farmers decided not to proceed with their winter crop planting because of difficulty of sowing and risk of non-emergence, hoping that soil moisture will improve during winter and create favourable conditions for sowing spring crops," the office said.
And of those crops which were sown, "farmers complain that in many regions plants are far behind the normal development", besides being plagued in some areas by "excessive activity of rats" blamed on the drought.
"A significant percentage of the wheat fields have not emerged, while in case of rapeseed fields, plants have a small number of leaves with low chances of survival over the winter.
"Given the adverse conditions, farmers expect in case of wheat a drop of 20% in the production level," equivalent to a decline of about 1.5 million tonnes.
Nor is the drought expected to break soon, with rain in the first two months of 2012 expected by official Romanian meteorologists to prove "below normal" in southern areas.
In neighbouring Ukraine too, dryness continues to set back winter crops, prompting growers, as in Romania, to withhold sales of many grains.
Grain exports in the first 26 days of December were, at 1.65 million tonnes, down 9% month on month, and with shipments at that level held up by the fruits of a bumper corn crop.
"Corn accounts for more than two thirds of that export volume," consultant Agritel said.
"Egypt, Spain, Iran and Israel have turned their choice to Ukrainian corn."
In barley, in which Ukraine has historically punched hardest on export markets, "volumes are almost anecdotal with operators certainly waiting for the lift of the export tax at the beginning of 2012".