• Barley, sorghum imports may fall 44% as corn stockpiling ends
  • State corn buying had boosted demand for cheaper feed grains

The end of China’s corn-stockpiling frenzy may cut barley and sorghum imports almost in half next season, according to the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization.

The biggest grain buyer will this year end the state corn-purchasing program it used to subsidize its farmers and which had ballooned the country’s reserves to about half of the world’s supply. Because the hoarding raised domestic corn prices, livestock producers had shipped in record amounts of cheaper barley and sorghum as alternative feeds.

Now, with the government set to curb that demand for corn, combined imports of the other two grains may drop to 9 million tons in 2016-17, 44 percent less than this season and about half the record set a year earlier, said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the FAO in Rome. The state began subsidizing corn output in 2008.

“A reduction in corn stocks would mean far less need to bring barley and sorghum to China,” Abbassian said by phone on Friday. “China is a very important driver in both of those markets. Sorghum was especially benefiting from China’s demand.”

Chinese Buying

The country’s demand had been one of the few bright spots in the past year as markets around the world suffered from global gluts and U.S. exporters struggled to compete with other shippers because the stronger dollar eroded demand. The U.S. accounts for almost all of China’s sorghum imports, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Australia is the biggest supplier of barley, followed by France and Canada.

The prospect of fewer Chinese imports comes as sorghum and barley prices have slumped. U.S. spot prices for sorghum in Omaha, Nebraska, fell last month to the lowest since 2010, according to USDA data. European feed barley prices in Rotterdam retreated 15 percent in the past year, according to the U.K.’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

China plans to replace its corn inventory program with other farm subsidies, the official Xinhua News Agency said March 29. The state had bought grain at above-market prices to protect farm incomes. China now plans to reduce the area it plants with the grain, the Ministry of Agriculture said last week, marking the first decline in more than a decade.

That suggests Chinese livestock producers will feed more domestic corn to animals next year and draw down some of the stockpile. Demand for corn in livestock feed may climb about 7 percent to 145 million tons in 2016-17, Abbassian said. The country’s corn inventories are expected to narrow by about 6 percent to 98 million tons by the end of the season, he said.

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