Russian Wheat Exports Disappoint as Sales Slow on Low Price

  • Level of shipments seen as low, given nation’s record crop
  • Egypt’s fungus policy caused prices, shipments to fall

Russian wheat exports haven’t lived up to expectations so far this season as falling prices made some growers reluctant to sell grain to traders amid a halt in purchases by Egypt, the world’s largest buyer.

Outbound shipments in the three months since the campaign started in July will probably total 9 million metric tons, down 8 percent from two seasons earlier, Moscow-based SovEcon said in an e-mailed report. That’s a “relatively low” number as Russia, the biggest wheat exporter, is this year harvesting a record crop.

Export prices for Russian wheat declined to the lowest level in at least six years in July on expectations of a bumper crop. After starting to rebound, prices dropped again when Egypt introduced a ban on a common ergot fungus at the end of August. The North African country then made a U-turn on the policy last week after traders boycotted tenders.

“The situation is extremely unpleasant,” said Alexander Korbut, vice president of the Russian Grain Union, a lobby group. As prices decline, “it’s a natural reaction of farmers to hold on to the grain of good quality,” he said.

SovEcon didn’t use Federal Customs Service data for last year to calculate the pace of outbound shipments, saying it couldn’t rely on the numbers because officials sometimes delayed registering cargoes to deal with a wheat-export levy that Russia introduced at the start of last season. The consultant sees the country’s crop climbing 15 percent this season to 71 million tons.

Market Return

Egypt is now back in the market. It bought 240,000 tons of Russian wheat in a tender on Thursday, after saying it would again tolerate shipments containing 0.05 percent ergot, an internationally accepted standard. The country’s switch to a zero-tolerance policy at the end of August led to three failed attempts to buy the grain amid a boycott by traders. Ergot is considered toxic only in high amounts.

If purchases continue, Russian wheat prices will rise to the level seen before the ergot ban and prompt more offers from farmers, Vladimir Petrichenko, director general of OOO ProZerno, said Sept. 22. Monthly shipments may climb to as much as 4.5 million tons in October, he said in an interview at the Russian Crop Production conference in Moscow. 

The nation shouldn’t boost exports if prices remain low, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday. The government should instead try to ensure prices are adequate, he said in a meeting with Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev in Moscow.

On Aug. 26, before Egypt adopted a zero-tolerance ergot policy, the Moscow-based Institute for Agriculture Market Studies pegged wheat at $172 a ton. The price, which is for wheat with 12.5 percent protein content for loading at Black Sea ports on free-on-board terms, then declined throughout September before rebounding last week.

“The story of prices has been filled with abrupt changes and sudden movements recently,” Petrichenko said. “When they increase again, there will be more export activity.”

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