* Poor UK wheat crop triggers sharp rise in imports
* Biofuel expansion sends UK wheat demand to record levels
(Adds details, quotes)
By Nigel Hunt and Sarah McFarlane
LONDON, Jan 30 Britain's wheat imports are
expected to more than double in 2012/13, boosted by a poor
domestic harvest and record consumption as the production of
bioethanol expands, farm ministry figures showed on Wednesday.
The ministry forecast wheat imports would climb to 2.19
million tonnes for the year to end-June 2013, up 144,000 tonnes
from its previous projection and sharply above the prior
season's 908,000 tonnes.
Imports during the season's first five months to
end-November at 1.04 million tonnes already surpassed the total
for the entire 2011/12 season. That level was the highest in 19
years for the five-month period.
Britain had a poor wheat crop last summer, with yields
slumping to a 23-year low and quality hurt by high disease
levels, following the wettest June since records began more than
a century ago.
Agriculture, forestry and fishing as a whole represents 0.6
percent of the UK economy, with wheat by far the most important
"Wheat imports are supporting record UK consumption levels
with little evidence that strong prices are dampening demand,"
the Home-Grown Cereals Authority said in a note issued with the
BIOETHANOL FUELS DEMAND
Domestic consumption was forecast to rise 7 percent to 14.65
million tonnes, driven by a 16 percent increase in human and
industrial use to 7.93 million tonnes, the ministry data showed.
Wheat usage for animal feed was forecast to fall by 2
percent to 6.33 million tonnes.
"Year-on-year increases in bioethanol and distilling
capacity more than compensate for some diversion of wheat demand
to maize," the ministry said.
Bioethanol is a petroleum substitute that can be made from
grains or sugar.
Vivergo Fuels announced last month that it had started
bioethanol production at a new refinery near Hull in eastern
England and expected to be fully operational in the first
quarter of 2013.
The biorefinery has the capacity to use 1.1 million tonnes
of feed-grade wheat per year.
Britain's other major bioethanol producer, Ensus, restarted
its biorefinery in late August 2012 after a 15-month shutdown.
It uses about 1 million tonnes of feed wheat, although this year
it has blended in some imported maize due to the poor quality of
the UK harvest.
(Reporting by Sarah McFarlane; editing by Keiron Henderson and