EU maize import surge seen cushioning impact of drought-hit crop

A French farmer harvests a maize field in Thun-L'Eveque, France, September 29, 2022. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

PARIS, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Consultancy Strategie Grains further cut its monthly forecast for the European Union's drought-affected maize harvest, but said a wave of imports from Ukraine was helping limit supply tensions.

In a monthly cereal report, the French firm lowered its 2022 EU maize (corn) crop forecast to 50.4 million tonnes from 52.9 million projected in September.

That was nearly 25% below its forecast of 66.8 million tonnes in June, before severe drought and heatwaves damaged plants during key summer growth stages.

The latest outlook was 28% below estimated 2021 production and would be the smallest EU crop in 15 years.

However, Strategie Grains raised its projection of EU maize imports in the current 2022/23 season following a recent rush of imports supported by a Black Sea corridor for Ukrainian shipments.

"The European maize harvest is confirmed at the calamitously low level of just over 50 million tonnes, although users already anticipated this production crash and imported massively," it said in the report.

"Thus, the European maize market is effectively finding some breathing space thanks to the arrival of Ukrainian (as well as Brazilian) corn."

Supply would remain dependant on the war situation in Ukraine, including the continuation of the shipping corridor, Strategie Grains added.

It increased its forecast for EU maize imports in 2022/23 to 23.0 million tonnes from 21.4 million projected last month, with imports from Ukraine now expected at 12.8 million tonnes against 10.4 million forecast in September.

Supply tensions in maize may also be tempered by an economic slowdown, the consultancy said.

Demand for maize from starch makers could fall by 6% year-on-year in 2022/23, while soft wheat use by the milling industry may ease by 1%, it projected.

For soft wheat, Strategie Grains raised its estimate of this year's harvest by 1.4 million tonnes to 125.5 million tonnes.

Combined with a strong early-season pace of exports, the increased harvest estimate led Strategie Grains to lift its forecast of EU soft wheat exports in 2022/23 by 2.3 million tonnes to 31.1 million.

Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Jan Harvey and Kim Coghill

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Paris-based reporter covering commodities, mostly agriculture, looking at production and its impact on health, the economy and the environment.