Britain is about to ship its largest wheat cargo to America in at least two decades.
About 61,000 metric tons of the grain at the U.K.’s Port of Bristol are destined to reach Wilmington, North Carolina on May 22, data from the North Carolina State Ports Authority show. Britain normally sells feed wheat to European nations and has never before shipped a cargo that large to America, according to customs records dating to 1992.
It’s unusual for the U.S. to buy large quantities of wheat because it’s one of the biggest exporters. British sales accelerated in recent months as two years of bumper harvests pushed prices near a six-year low, while a weaker pound boosted the appeal of its supplies. The U.K. primarily exports feed-grade wheat, and the grain has become a competitive alternative for livestock producers after corn prices rallied, said Jack Watts, an analyst at the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board.
“U.K. feed wheat should be fairly competitive on the global scene,” Watts said by phone Monday from Kenilworth, England. “This is largely being driven by the strength of the corn price relative to the wheat price.”
Feed-wheat futures lost 6.1 percent this year in London and fell below 100 pounds ($144) a ton in March, the lowest since 2010. Big harvests mean the U.K.’s wheat surplus this year will be 38 percent larger than in 2015, according to government estimates. French corn prices are up 11 percent this year in Paris as dryness in Brazil threatened to reduce supplies in the world’s second-biggest exporter.
Because the U.S. is among the world’s top wheat exporters, it doesn’t usually import large supplies, particularly from Europe. Canada, which shares a 5,500-mile border and free-trade status, is the biggest foreign supplier. North Carolina is one of the biggest U.S. producers of turkey and pork, so it needs large amounts of feed grain.
The U.S. is expected to import 3.27 million tons of wheat in the season that ends May 31, a four-year low, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The U.K. shipped 26,000 tons of wheat to the U.S. in the entire 2014-15 season, and almost nothing in the two years before that, according to customs data available on the AHDB’s website. So far this year, the biggest importers of U.K. wheat have been Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Ireland.
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