China’s poor wheat crop this season adds to the global jitters on wheat supply

Global wheat supplies are already set to be very tight by mid-2022, but top producer China’s struggling wheat crop could keep a chokehold on stocks into next year. That means China might keep its role as a key wheat importer over the next year or so, which may work in its favor given its recent trade agreement with top exporter and now global pariah Russia.

China’s agriculture minister said over the weekend that the country’s wheat crop conditions could be the worst in history after heavy rainfall delayed planting last fall. The harvest will provide supplies for the upcoming marketing year that lasts through mid-2023.

That is a highly unusual tidbit for China to share as it normally likes to keep troubles out of the public eye. Beijing has cut off data streams and shut down Chinese analysts within the past year to prevent the spread of possibly compromising supply and demand information to global traders and analysts.

China’s wheat crop is the largest in the world, three times larger than the U.S. crop and almost 80% larger than No. 1 supplier Russia. Beijing keeps plentiful state stockpiles of wheat and incentivizes farmers to continue production by supporting prices, all intended to ensure food security.

China’s wheat imports have been on and off over the decades, but they have been back on in the last two years as domestic consumption surged without matching production, along with a general drawdown of grain supplies in the country and rising global prices.

China’s huge corn and wheat imports cover less than 10% of its annual demand, while other buyers may be satisfying between 40% and 100% of domestic needs with imports. The success of China’s grain crops is critical this year given Beijing’s recent claims it can reduce soymeal rations in animal feed to sharply curb its massive reliance on foreign soybeans, all while increasing meat output. Top wheat exporter Russia’s invasion of major grain supplier Ukraine, and the subsequent collapse of shipments out of the region, have driven global wheat prices to record highs this month. Prices were already steep last year on shrinking world supplies.

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