U.S. in Biggest Wheat Sale to Iran Since 2008, USDA Says

U.S. exporters sold the most wheat to Iran in more than three years, the government said, raising speculation that the Persian Gulf country may be boosting stockpiles after production from last year’s crop declined.

The sale of 120,000 metric tons of hard, red winter wheat is for delivery in the marketing year that ends May 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in an e-mailed statement. The sale was the biggest since Iran purchased 689,310 tons in a deal announced on Aug. 15, 2008. The U.S. hasn’t exported any wheat to Iran since a 54,267-ton shipment was sent in November 2009, USDA data show.

Iran’s production of wheat, the country’s biggest crop, fell to 13.75 million tons in 2011, 13 percent less than a year earlier, the USDA estimates. While Iran is facing international sanctions over its nuclear program, U.S. restrictions provide exemptions for “licensed exports of agricultural commodities,” according to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, a division of the Treasury Department.

“If Iran is concerned about commerce or shipping, any of those kinds of things, as a result of sanctions or something worse coming about, having adequate stockpiles of food in the country may be an appropriate thing to do,” Vince Peterson, a vice president of overseas operations for U.S. Wheat Associates, a trade group focusing on developing export markets, said.

Oil Rises

The U.S. and Europe are moving to block Iranian oil sales and transactions with its central bank. The U.S. and Israel say they haven’t ruled out using force to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The Islamic republic says its atomic program is peaceful and legitimate under international agreements. Iran holds parliamentary elections tomorrow.

Crude-oil futures for April delivery rose 1.7 percent to $108.84 a barrel at 2:29 p.m. today on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up 11 percent this year. Wheat futures slid 0.6 percent to $6.64 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, after climbing as much as 0.7 percent.

Iran may have purchased as much as 2 million tons of wheat in the past month from international suppliers, Peterson said by telephone from Arlington, Virginia. Arkady Zlochevsky, the president of Russia’s Grain Union, said Feb. 22 that the country may deliver 1 million tons of grain to Iran. Industry officials in India also have discussed selling wheat to Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported Feb. 28, citing unnamed sources.

The U.S. exported $53.035 million in agricultural products to Iran last year, the least since 2006, USDA data show.

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