Strong Tunisian wheat crop ‘to curb import needs’, says ag minister

Tunisian wheat production will recover even further than expected this year, the country’s farm minister said, reducing the potential for exports, which US officials have forecast hitting a 10-year high.

The farm ministry for the North African country, a notable wheat importer, said that its grains harvest would hit 1.78m tonnes this year, a jump of 500,000 tonnes year on year.

This total includes 1.22m tonnes of wheat – all but 120,000 tonnes representing durum rather than soft wheat – as well as 500,000 tonnes of barley.

“The grain’s harvest will be good this season,” said Samir Bettaib, the Tunisian agriculture minister.

‘Unfavourable temperatures’

Mr Bettaib added that the stronger production would allow the country to “reduce our imports” – in contrast to forecasts earlier this week from the US Department of Agriculture which, in its first official estimates for 2017-18, pegged Tunisian wheat purchases in 2017-18 at 2.0m tonnes.

The forecast increase, which the USDA said was needed to “meet demand and to rebuild stocks”, would represent a rise of 200,000 tonnes year on year, and be the highest figure in a decade.

And it reflected less upbeat expectations for wheat production, at 1.2m tonnes.

Although the USDA did not detail the thinking behind its output forecast, the department’s Tunis bureau in a report last month flagged some weather setbacks to crops.

“Grain and feed crops benefited from favourable conditions during the seeding period (mid-October to mid-December) and into the early growing season, but became hampered in March by unfavourable temperatures and [a lack of] rainfall,” the bureau said.

Key suppliers

Tunisia is a junior member of the club of Middle Eastern and North African grain importers, which also include Egypt, the world’s biggest buyer, Saudi Arabia and Morocco.

Tunisia sources most of its imported supplies, which are mainly soft wheat rather than durum, from the Ukraine, Italy, and Canada, with some from Romania, Russia and the UK too.

France is another notable origin, although thanks to the country’s poor harvest last year, its exports to Tunisia for the first nine months of 2016-17, to March, fell 54% to 50,223 tonnes.


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