Grain shipments from La Rochelle, France’s second-biggest cereal-export port, may fall about 18 percent in the season through June after low wheat protein levels forced exporters to cut prices to secure buyers.
Grain shipments will be 3.8 million to 3.9 million metric tons in 2013-14 from a record 4.75 million tons in the previous season, said Vincent Poudevigne, chief executive officer of Sica Atlantique, La Rochelle’s biggest port elevator.
“The port will do 3.8 million and a bit,” Poudevigne said in an interview in La Rochelle today. That will still be the third-best season for the port on the Bay of Biscay, behind 2012-13 and 2010-11, he said.
Wheat grown in the region around La Rochelle had lower-than-usual protein levels last year after a long winter and a cold, wet spring, with average protein levels below those demanded by some importers. The port ranks behind Rouen on the Seine River in terms of grain exports.
Sica Atlantique had dispatched or loaded 2.48 million tons of grain as of yesterday and will ship more than 2.5 million tons in the season through the end of June, Poudevigne said. That compares with a record 3.04 million tons in the 2012-13 season.
“It will be our third-best campaign,” Poudevigne said. “Since 2010 we’ve been above 2.4 million tons, and now we’re trending above 2.5 million.”
Of the grain loaded by Sica Atlantique so far in 2013-14, 64 percent was soft wheat, 15 percent barley, 8 percent corn and a similar amount of durum wheat, he said.
Algeria accounted for 16 percent of Sica Atlantique’s shipments, “the great majority wheat,” while the West Africa region accounted for 30 percent, the CEO said. Saudi Arabia accounted for 8 percent of shipments, all barley, he said.
Smaller port elevator Socomac, owned by Groupe Soufflet, expects to ship 1.35 million tons of grains by the end of June, according to documents handed out at a port meeting today.
Discounts on low-protein wheat allowed exporters from La Rochelle to salvage sales to Morocco and Algeria, according to Jean-Francois Lepy, general director of Soufflet Negoce.
“We’ve lost markets that have requirements of 11.5 percent minimum, Yemen is a good example,” Lepy said. “We were still able to find outlets for the deficient-protein wheat.”
A strike at French railway operator SNCF had forced Sica Atlantique to cancel 15 grain trains as of yesterday, mostly carrying wheat and corn, disrupting supply to the operator’s silos, Poudevigne said. A single train carries 1,200 tons of grains, he said.