* East coast wheat hit by lower-than-average protein levels
* Tight supply of high-protein Aus wheat drives wider
* Asian buyers may increasingly look to N.America
By Colin Packham
SYDNEY, Dec 19 Wheat harvested recently across
Australia's east contains less protein than average, traders and
analysts said, tightening supplies of high-quality grain from
the world's No. 2 exporter.
Asia's top buyers, who rely on Australia for the bulk of
their milling wheat supplies, may be forced to import larger
volumes of high-protein spring wheat from the United States and
Canada, supporting global prices.
Lower-than-expected protein levels were found in wheat
harvested in Queensland and northern and central New South
Wales, the two states where the country's premier wheat is
grown, earlier in the season, and traders said the trend has
persisted with harvests near completion.
"The quality of the crop has been below average throughout
the east coast," said Graydon Chong, a senior grains and oilseed
analyst at Rabobank.
Fears over tight global wheat stocks have eased in recent
days with improved crop weather forecast for U.S. winter wheat
in the next few weeks and signs of increased demand for U.S.
That has supported Chicago Board of Trade March wheat
futures, which have firmed in the last two days.
But spreads for high-quality Australian wheat have widened,
reflecting the tightness of the premium grain, traders said.
"We have seen a widening of spreads between the high-protein
wheat such as Australian Prime Hard wheat and Australia Standard
White wheat, and that reflects the pressure in the market for
high-protein wheat," Chong said.
Australia's 2012/13 wheat marketing year has already been
hampered by unfavourable weather, leading to cuts in production
forecasts, though concerns that dry weather would drive
significant reductions in production levels earlier in the year
failed to materialise.
Australia has trimmed its wheat production forecast in the
current marketing year by 2.3 percent from its previous estimate
to 22.03 million tonnes.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Joseph Radford)