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Tops in Wheat, Russia Moves Up as a Feed Grain Exporter

Due to a rapid improvement in yields, Russia is cementing its position as the world’s top wheat exporter and has become the fifth-largest exporter of feed grains (mostly barley), developments that squeeze the U.S. position in the world market. It is a dramatic change in rank for Russia. In the early 2000s, it was a net importer of grain.

Russian grain exports are forecast by USDA to reach record levels during the current marketing year, nearly 45 million tonnes, a leap upward from 36.4 million tonnes last year. Wheat shipments would be the largest ever, at 35 million tonnes, while corn and barley would be the second-highest on record, at just below 10 million tonnes. Besides abundant harvests, the sales surge is built on low prices, favorable exchange rates, and proximity to the rapidly growing markets of the Middle East and North Africa. Russia has expanded its port capacity and, at the end of 2017, began subsidizing shipments to the port from the field.

USDA analysts say Russian wheat sales to Egypt, the top importer, are booming, and sales of feed grains are strong into Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Libya. In the Middle East, barley is fed to sheep and cattle; corn goes into poultry feed. Egypt is expected to get 1% of its wheat from the U.S. this year, down from 8% five years ago. Russia and Ukraine hold 82% of the Egyptian market for wheat.

“Plentiful supplies have enabled it to expand exports to reach markets farther afield in Africa, Asia, and even to Mexico, demonstrating Russia’s growing influence in the global grain market,” says USDA. Although a small player in the corn market, Russia has notched sales to Japan and South Korea – two major U.S. ag customers. Russia accounts for one fifth of world trade in wheat and barley. The U.S. is a nonentity in the barley market but is No. 1 in corn. After leading the wheat market last year, the U.S. is neck and neck with the EU for second place this year.

The U.S. is the world’s largest ag exporter, but its share of the global market has fallen in recent decades and was estimated at 28% in 2017, although a larger portion of U.S. crops is being exported, says the Kansas City Fed. “The decline . . . suggests that, while the rest of the world has become more active in global export markets, the U.S. has become increasingly reliant on world trade.”

This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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