This week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates data – arguably among the most anticipated data releases in global agricultural markets. The agency reinforced the message painted by the International Grains Council (IGC) last month, that there are large supplies in the global market.
This message also allays the fears of countries that had placed export bans fearing for a global shortage of grain commodities.
To start with maize, the USDA forecasts the 2020/21 global production to nearly 1.2 billion tonnes, up 6% y/y (see Exhibit 1). Similar to the point made by IGC, this will mainly be underpinned by an expected expansion in area plantings and higher yields in the US, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and the EU. The planting of this crop has begun in the northern hemisphere and progressed with minimal interruptions, albeit with the additional coronavirus-related precautions on farms. Moreover, input supply chains appear to be functioning well across the globe. In the southern hemisphere, planting will only begin around October for the 2020/21 season.
In terms of wheat, the USDA forecasts a 1% y/y increase in 2020/21 production to a new high of 768 million tonnes (see Exhibit 2). The improvement is expected in Australia, India and Russia boosted by an increase in area planted and expected higher yields. This will compensate for a potential production reduction in the EU, Ukraine, the US and North Africa. This will mean that the 2020/21 global wheat stocks could increase by 5% y/y to 310 million tonnes.
The wheat importing countries such as South Africa stand to benefit with such an outlook, assuming there are no further restrictions on exports imposed as the data shows that there should be no global supply worries.
South Africa’s 2020/21 wheat production season recently commenced and the outlook is not encouraging. Plantings are set to fall by 8% y/y to 495 000 hectares, mainly in the Free State. This means that South Africa will continue to have a large dependence on imports, about 50% of annual consumption. Fortunately, the lockdown regulations have had minimal interruptions on wheat plantings, and now the “level 4” regulations mean that the sector is largely operational, albeit observing all health protocols.
In the case of rice, the USDA forecasts a 2% y/y increase to a record 502 million tonnes (see Exhibit 3). This is boosted by a potential increase in area planted in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Under this production estimate, the USDA forecasts a 2% y/y increase in global rice stocks in the 2020/21 season to 184 million tonnes, which would add bearish pressure to prices and, in turn, be beneficial to net importing countries such as South Africa.
While the road ahead is remarkably uncertain because of the COVID-19 pandemic, export restrictions on agricultural products should not be a policy option that countries pursue. Fortunately, Russia and Kazakhstan have recently indicated that they intend to abolish their recently imposed export quotas on wheat. This comes as it is increasingly becoming clear that there are prospects for large supplies in the market. There are currently large carryover supplies in the market from the 2019/20 season, and the 2020/21 production season promises to be even more bountiful. Over the coming month, we will closely monitor the production developments and weather conditions in key grain-producing countries.
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