Massive Maize Imports Keep EU Livestock Fed After Drought
EU maize imports are running at a record pace, turning the bloc into a net cereal importer for the first time in a decade, as the livestock industry uses a bumper Ukrainian harvest to make up for a lack of forage caused by a torrid summer.
Demand is such that the European Union is set in 2018/19 comfortably to beat last season's haul of about 18 million tonnes, already a record, and reinforce its status as the world's largest importer of maize, or corn.
The tempo of maize imports is nonetheless expected to ease next season, assuming current projections for a rebound in EU cereal production this year.
"We see this record as something of a one-off," Charles Clack, commodity analyst with Rabobank, said.
"The EU has a feed shortage and higher-priced wheat. The Ukraine corn crop has complemented the situation well, helped by low freight costs."
EU maize imports so far in 2018/19 are 45% above the same pace last season at 13.4 million tonnes. Coupled with a slowdown in wheat exports, the maize inflows have made the EU a net cereal importer for the first time in a decade.
Among forecasters, Rabobank sees full-year 2018/19 imports reaching 20 million tonnes, the US Department of Agriculture 21 million, and French-based Strategie Grains 21.7 million.
The European Commission, which has a higher estimate of the EU's own harvest, sees a smaller increase but still anticipates a new record at 18.5 million tonnes.
Ukraine has supplied more than half of the EU's maize imports so far in 2018/19, more than doubling the amount it had sent by the same point last season.
Imports from Ukraine, as well as Romania and Bulgaria, EU members less affected by drought, are also set to rise in France, the EU's biggest maize grower.
Maize Imports To Rise
Farming agency FranceAgriMer forecasts maize imports will rise by a third this season to 800,000 tonnes.
Low river levels have exacerbated the cost of sourcing French crop domestically and in northern Europe, adding to the competitiveness of shipments from eastern Europe, traders say.
Germany has seen maize imports surge to make up for a shortfall of hay and straw and as a cheaper alternative to wheat.
"The animals have to be fed and imports of feed grains including maize have shot up since September. I think the imports will continue until the harvest in summer 2019," a German trader said.
"Germany's maize imports have been running at between 100,000 and over 200,000 tonnes a month against only 20,000 to 50,000 in years after more normal harvests."
In Britain, maize use in animal feed rose between July and November by 53.3% from a year earlier to a record 209,500 tonnes, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.
"The record usage of maize in rations reflects the tight supply for UK grains this season and the need for imported maize," AHDB analyst Daniel Rooney said.