Global cereal markets are expected to remain adequately supplied in 2020/21 despite this month’s downward revisions to production and inventories, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in its latest monthly report.
With trade in cereals seen expanding in 2020/21, global cereal markets continue to demonstrate their resilience amidst the challenges and uncertainty caused by COVID-19, it added.
FAO’s latest forecast for world cereal production in 2020 has been trimmed 2.5 million tonnes since the previous report in September and now stands at 2 762 million tonnes. At this level, the global cereal output would remain at an all-time high, exceeding the previous year’s outturn by as much as 2.1 percent (55.7 million tonnes).
This month’s downward revision reflects lower expectations for the global coarse grains output, with production now pegged at 1 488 million tonnes, down 0.5 percent (7.2 million tonnes) from the previous report. The bulk of the cutback reflects smaller projected maize crops in the European Union (EU), the Russian Federation and Ukraine, due to recent dry weather conditions that adversely impacted crops.
Forecasts of maize production in China and the United States of America (USA) have also been lowered due to damage caused by extreme weather events; nevertheless, this year’s maize output in the USA is still seen to surpass last year’s harvest by a significant margin.
An upturn in prospects for world barley production, raised by 1.6 percent to 156.6 million tonnes this month, has prevented a larger cut to the global coarse grains production forecast. The improved outlook for barley production is mainly associated with better yield prospects in the EU and the Russian Federation.
Wheat forecast revised upward
FAO’s forecast for world wheat production in 2020 has been revised upward by nearly 5.0 million tonnes (0.6 percent) to a record high level of around 765 million tonnes.
The bulk of the upward revision concerns Australia, where continued conducive weather has led to better yield prospects and reaffirmed earlier expectations of a substantial rebound in production following two consecutive drought-affected harvests.
Higher than previously anticipated yields in the EU and the Russian Federation also contributed to increases in wheat production forecasts, further propping up global production prospects. As for rice, larger than earlier anticipated plantings have boosted the production outlook for Mali, Sri Lanka, the USA and, in particular, India.
However, upgrades for these countries were offset by lower forecasts for Egypt, Pakistan and, especially Thailand, which could see tight water availabilities for irrigation precluding a marked offseason production recovery this season. As a result, FAO’s forecast of world rice production in 2020 remains essentially unchanged since September at 509.1 million tonnes, up 1.6 percent year-on-year and setting a new record.
Cereal utilisation above last year’s estimate
The forecast for world cereal utilisation in 2020/21 stands at 2 744 million tonnes, down 2.8 million tonnes since September but still 54.5 million tonnes (2 percent) above the estimate for 2019/20. Total utilisation of coarse grains is forecast at 1 477 million tonnes, representing a 41 million tonne (2.9 percent) increase over the previous season’s level despite a cut of 2.7 million tonnes since September.
Making up the bulk of the downward revision, the forecast for maize utilisation has been reduced on less robust demand growth for industrial and feed uses, especially in the EU and USA. In tandem with reduced feed use expectations for maize, greater anticipated feed use of barley has pushed up the barley utilisation forecast to some 6 million tonnes (4.1 percent) above last year’s level, as higher maize prices are seen to increase barley’s competitiveness in feed rations.
At 757 million tonnes, the forecast for total wheat utilisation is nearly unchanged from September and 5.8 million tonnes higher than in 2019/20, driven by a rise in consumption in Asia, especially China and India. Despite a slight downward revision since September, expanding food intake is predicted to drive a 1.5 percent annual increase in world rice utilisation in 2020/21 to a new record level of 510.5 million tonnes.
Cereal stocks rise
World cereal stocks by the close of seasons in 2021 are now forecast at 890 million tonnes, 5.9 million tonnes (0.7 percent) down from the September forecast, but still 16.7 million tonnes (1.9 percent) above the opening level and representing a record high.
Based on the latest stocks and utilisation forecasts, the world cereals stocks-to-use ratio in 2020/21 stands at 31.6 percent, only slightly lower than the 31.8 percent ratio in 2019/20 and still relatively high from a historical perspective.
This month’s downward revision to stocks mainly rests on an almost 10.0 million cut in the global maize inventory forecast, canceling the previously anticipated increase. Following the recent official downward revision to the 2020/21 maize opening stocks (i.e. carryovers from 2019/20 season) in the USA, the forecast for the country’s maize inventories by the end of the current season has been trimmed.
In addition, downgraded production prospects in the EU and China combined with robust feed demand have resulted in lower inventory forecasts. By contrast, better production prospects have lifted the expectations for higher global wheat inventories, which are now predicted to reach 284.8 million tonnes, some 10 million tonnes (3.7 percent) above their opening levels, but still below the 2017/18 record level.
However, much of the projected wheat inventory growth is likely to be concentrated in China, with global wheat stocks excluding China expected to register a small decline. Primarily reflecting higher than earlier anticipated carry-overs in India, FAO’s forecast for world rice stocks by the close of 2020/21 has been raised by 700 000 tonnes to 182.0 million tonnes, essentially on par with the previous season, which stood out as the second highest volume on record.
Global trade to reach all-time high
Global trade in cereals is forecast to reach an all-time high of 448 million tonnes in 2020/21, 6.2 million tonnes higher than the previous forecast in September and 10.6 million tonnes (2.4 percent) above the 2019/20 record level. Coarse grains trade in 2020/21 is likely to expand by 7.2 million tonnes (3.5 percent) from 2019/20, supported by stronger import demand for maize, barley and sorghum.
Higher maize imports are forecast for China amidst soaring domestic prices, as well as for the EU, in view of the anticipated fall in production this year. On the export side, a strong rebound in maize exports is expected for the USA, while maize shipments from Brazil and Argentina are forecast to fall from their 2019/20 record levels.
Following an upward revision this month of 3 million tonnes, global wheat trade in 2020/21 is now forecast to remain close to the 2019/20 level. Greater supplies in several major exporters, including Australia, the EU and the Russian Federation, are expected to meet the increased demand from North Africa and Asia, especially China and Egypt.
Rekindling African demand is predicted to sustain a 6.9 percent expansion in world rice trade in 2021 (January-December) to 47.1 million tonnes, unchanged from September expectations. Among suppliers, consistent with the improved supply prospects, export forecasts were raised for India to an all-time high this month, but this was offset by outlook cuts made for Pakistan, Viet Nam, and especially Thailand.