Japan, the world’s largest corn importer, made its biggest purchase of European grain in at least a decade, seeking a cheaper alternative to U.S. supply.
The country bought about 800,000 metric tons from Ukraine after it removed a tax on exports last month. The purchase, made by five Japanese trading companies, was for shipments in November to March at prices that were about $20 a ton cheaper than U.S. corn, Nobuyuki Chino, president of Continental Rice Corp. in Tokyo, said in an interview today.
Japan, which sourced almost 90 percent of its corn last year from the U.S., the biggest exporter, is seeking different options after a drought hurt the U.S. crop, driving annual prices to an all-time high and curbing global food supplies.
“Japan joined other Asian buyers in finding cheaper alternatives to U.S. corn in feed as the American supply became too expensive,” Takaki Shigemoto, a commodity analyst at research company JSC Corp. in Tokyo, said today by phone. “A shift in demand will drag Chicago futures toward $6.”
Chino, who has traded grains for three decades and worked for Continental Grain Co. of the U.S. before establishing his company in 1999, declined to identify the trading companies as the information is not public.
The country’s livestock industry is increasing efforts to cut raw-material costs as it struggles to recover from the March 11 earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster, which destroyed feed plants and tainted beef and milk with radioactive cesium.
Corn futures for March delivery lost 1 percent to $6.485 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade at 3:52 p.m. Tokyo time. Corn, which has gained 3.1 percent this year, is used mostly to make livestock feed and ethanol. Global food prices tracked by the United Nations fell 9.1 percent from a record in February.
Japan imported 7.3 million tons of feed corn in the nine months ended Sept. 30, data from the finance ministry show. Of the total, 6.8 million tons was from the U.S. and 231,160 tons was from Argentina, the second-largest supplier.
Ukraine’s corn shipments in October may have climbed to a record on export demand and as farmers sold the grain after a 12 percent tax was removed, researcher UkrAgroConsult said Nov. 8.
The duty, which had been in place since July 1, was abolished Oct. 22. The Ukrainian government forecast 12 million tons will be exported in the marketing year that started July 1 from a record harvest of about 20 million tons.
Average corn yields in Ukraine rose to a record on favorable weather, reaching 6 tons a hectare (2.47 acres) on average as of Nov. 8, the Agrarian Confederation said. The bumper harvest added to a glut of feed-grain supplies this year as wheat exports also expanded on increased shipments from countries including Russia and Kazakhstan.
Japan’s agriculture ministry bought 63,280 tons of feed wheat in a weekly tender on Nov. 9, the largest volume of this fiscal year, ministry data showed.
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