Higher-than-expected sugar output to curb U.S. import needs: JSG

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A hurricane that ripped through Florida will not curb the state’s cane sugar output and weaker-than-forecast demand will further reduce U.S. sugar import needs this year, a closely watched North American trader said on Thursday.

U.S. production of beet and cane sugar will total 9.1 million tons (8.3 million tonnes) in the 2017-18 crop year, as cane fields in Florida withstood any real impact from Hurricane Irma, said JSG Commodities president and veteran trader Frank Jenkins at an industry conference on Thursday.

Irma tore through Florida in September, and the state’s agricultural commissioner previously said the storm caused $2.5 billion in damage to crops such as sugar and citrus.

Jenkins’ forecast is above last month’s U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast of 8.8 million tons for the crop year that began Oct. 1.

“I don’t think the hurricane had any impact,” Jenkins said. “Cane is a tough son of a gun.”

Jenkins pegged 2017-18 demand at 12.2 million tons, up 1.5 percent from the previous year but below a USDA forecast of 12.4 million tons. That will help reduce import needs in the coveted U.S. sugar market, where prices typically trade above global levels due to government supports.

As a result, total imports from Mexico and other quota holders will be 3.2 million tons, below the USDA forecast of 3.6 million tons, Jenkins said.

Reporting by Chris Prentice; Editing by James Dalgleish