China’s announcements that it may import up to 10 million metric ton (MMT) of wheat this year has stirred up what had been a quiet market for the last few months.   Consumption for the 2013/14 marketing is currently expected to slightly exceed production and more uncertainties may develop in coming months.

World wheat production this year, the 2013/14 marketing year that various by country location, is estimated at 698.0 MMT by the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of USDA.  That is a record large crop just barely exceeds the 2011/12 crop of 697.2 MMT.  The 2012/13 crop was only 655.3 MMT.  The third largest crop was the 2009/10 crop at 686.7 MMT.  Russia is expecting to have the largest increase in production at 54.0 MMT, compared to 37.7 MMT last year.  Kazakhstan’s production is expected to up 4.7 MMT to 14.5 MMT.   Both countries have suffered from dryness that may trim spring wheat yields.

Total global wheat consumption for 2013/14 is projected at 699.9 MMT, up 19.6 MMT from 2012/13, but up only 3.0 MMT from 2011/12 when using wheat to feed livestock was higher.  India will have the largest increase in use of 5.2 MMT to 89.0 MMT.  Russia is expected to have a 3.0 MMT increase in use to 36.5 MMT.

World ending stocks would be 172.4 MMT, down from 174.5 MMT in 2012/13 and the lowest carryover since 2008/09 at 168.7 MMT.  The largest carryover in recent years was 201.7 MMT in 2009/10.   The largest country level carryover stocks for 2013/14 will be held by China at 57.1 MMT, near the average for China for the past four years.  U.S. carryover stocks will be down 3.9 MMT at 15.7 MMT, while India will be down 4.0 MMT at 20.2 MMT.  The EU will be the only exporter with an increase in stocks at 11.7 MMT, up 2.1 MMT from last year.

Wheat trade for 2013/14 on a July/June year is projected at 148.2 MMT, up 1.9 MMT from last year, but still 5.6 MMT below the record of 153.8 MMT in 2011/12.  FAS included 8.5 MMT of imports for China.  Saudi Arabia is expected to increase imports by 1.0 MMT to 3.0 MMT, and Egypt is expected to increase imports 0.5 MMT to 9.0 MMT.  Declines in imports are noticeable with Iran down 2.7 MMT to 2.5 MMT, Morocco down 1.6 MMMT to 2.0 MMT, and South Korea down 0.7 MMT to 4.8 MMT.

Russia will increase wheat exports 5.8 MMT to 17.0 MMT.  Exports by the U.S. are expected to increase 2.1 MMT to 29.5 MMT, while Canada will increase exports by 0.7 MMT to 19.5 MMT.  Ukraine exports are expected to be up 0.8 MMT to 8.0 MMT. Australia will be down 2.3 million MMT in exports, while Argentina will be down 1.5 MMT.  The EU will be down by 2.0 MMT.

If China buys the 8.5 MMT projected by FAS that will be up sharply from the 3.2 MMT purchased in 2012/13 and the 2.9 MMT in 2011/12.  For 2005/06 to 2010/11, imports averaged less than 1.0 MMT per year.  In 2004/05 China bought 6.7 MMT and 3.7 MMT in 2003/04.  Under WTO rules, China’s wheat import Tariff-Rate-Quota (TRQ) is 9.6 MMT.  Private buyers have access to 0.96 MMT; the other TRQs are controlled by government buyers.  Based on media reports and USDA data, China has probably purchased 4.5 MMT of wheat and has other talks ongoing.  China had probably 5 MMT of production lost due to cold temperatures and excess rain with another 10-15 MMT reduced in quality.  Various government agencies are purchasing wheat for immediate consumption, to replace wheat that is exiting storage programs and will be used for livestock feed, and as net additions to wheat reserves.

Additional buying has surfaced recently by Egypt, the largest importer projected by FAS at 9.0 MMT for 2013/14, up from 8.5 MMT last year.  These were the first purchases since February as the country used some of the financial assistance from other Middle Eastern countries to rebuild wheat stocks.  All of the purchases have been from Black Sea countries which is normal as harvest is underway and the shipping distance to Egypt is short.  French and U.S. soft wheat are not competitive in the market.  Egypt purchased 11.7 MMT in 2011/12 and10.5 MMT in 2009/10 and 2010/11, so there is precedent for larger purchases than the projection of 9.0 MMT.

Market participants are also closely watching the production estimate of 54.0 MMT for Russia.  Much of Europe was dry for most of the month of July.  The winter wheat crop probably had enough subsoil moisture to produce a good crop, but there is concern that the spring wheat crops in Russia and its wheat exporting neighbors may be hurt by the dry weather.  A farm group in Russia estimated a wheat crop of less than 50 MMT.  Any production shortfall will cause buyers to seek out other suppliers.

Some exporters, like Argentina, have already announced they are out to supplies until the new crop is harvested later this year and will limit exports to keep domestic markets well supplied.  The Australian wheat harvest that begins in December may be large enough to meet additional demand.   The U.S. winter wheat crop is mostly harvested with a smaller crop than last year.  Export projections are up 2.1 MMT to 29.5 MMT and carryovers are expected to decline.

The good news for the wheat market is that information about production and consumption continues to flow into the marketplace.  The production conditions in China where somewhat of a surprise, but the early market activity allowed producers and purchasers to access the likely impacts.  When more production information becomes available from the Black Sea countries, the production picture will become clearer.

The stocks-to-use ratio for the 2013/14 marketing year based on the FAS July projections is 24.6 percent.  That is down from 30 percent a few years ago, but higher than the recent low of 20.8 percent for the 2007/08 marketing year.  Markets should be allowed to work to shift to less feeding of wheat to livestock and increase area planted to wheat in the fall season in the northern hemisphere.

Ross Korves is a Trade and Economic Policy Analyst with Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.