* Corn output 260.67 mln T vs 260.77 mln - statistics bureau * Analysts had been expecting big drop, some question data * China's wheat, rice and soybean production all rise (Adds second analyst comment, link to CASDE, prices) By Dominique Patton BEIJING, Dec 10 (Reuters) - China produced 260.67 million tonnes of corn in 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday, barely changed from last year despite weather damage before the harvest in the world's second biggest producer. Corn output is being closely watched as a growing deficit in the country drives prices to multi-year highs, boosting imports to record levels and fuelling the purchase of other grains. The grain is a key raw material in animal feed for China's huge livestock sector and is also used in industrial products. Analysts were expecting the harvest to fall by up to 10 million tonnes after typhoons flattened crops in parts of the northeastern corn belt, adding to supply concerns as Beijing has run down its massive stockpiles in recent years. But Beijing has repeatedly sought to soothe such concerns, saying output would not be hit, and this year's harvest was on a par with the 260.77 million tonnes produced last year. "Although floods and typhoons in some areas had a certain impact on production, all localities have strengthened field management and actively took measures to prevent and reduce disasters," the statistics bureau said in a statement. Some analysts, however, doubted the corn numbers. "It seems too high. The sown area is pretty much exactly the same as last year and so is the yield. But the northeast was hit with three typhoons in a row," said Darin Friedrichs, a senior Asia commodity analyst at StoneX. Output was probably down about 5 million tonnes, estimated Meng Jinhui, analyst at Shengda Futures, because of the challenging weather conditions during the year. China's agriculture ministry, meanwhile, estimated that 2020/21 output rose to 264 million tonnes. Corn futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange have cooled slightly since the harvest began, and after the exchange warned investors about excess volatility in the market, but are still at multi-year highs of 2,606 yuan ($398) per tonne. Production of China's food staples wheat and rice rose, the statistics bureau data showed. Beijing doubled down on its focus on food security, urging farmers to finish spring planting on time even as the country was emerging from a coronavirus lockdown earlier this year. China's wheat output came to 134.25 million tonnes, up marginally from 133.59 million tonnes last year, while rice production rose 1.1% to 211.86 million tonnes. The area planted with rice increased more than 5%, the statistics bureau said, after the government stepped up its support for one of China's staples after the pandemic began. Output of soybeans increased 8.3% to 19.6 million tonnes. The total grain planting area increased 0.6% to 116.8 million hectares, according to the statistics bureau. Major crop output in millions of tonnes, National Bureau of Statistics: 2019 2020 Percentage change Corn 260.77 260.67 -0.04 Wheat 133.59 134.25 0.5 Rice 209.6 211.86 1.1 Soybeans 18.1 19.6 8.3 ($1 = 6.5466 Chinese yuan renminbi) (Reporting by Min Zhang and Dominique Patton; Editing by Arun Koyyur and David Clarke)
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