The UK, historically a significant exporter of rapeseed, will see its imports hit a record high next season despite a rise in sowings, with buy-ins of many oilseed products, such as soymeal, to hit all-time highs too.

UK farmers raised rapeseed sowings for the 2022 harvest for the first time in a decade, lured by elevated prices back to a crop which has become risky to grow since the ban on neonicotinoid insecticides, which offered effective control against the cabbage stem flea beetle pest.

Even so, the 52,000-hectare increase will leave area, at 359,000 hectares, well below historic levels, which peaked in 2012 at 755,000 hectares.

And the recovery in production may lag thanks to the prospect of weaker yields than last year, as soaring fertilizer prices prompt growers to cut back on nutrients.

“Current crops are in good condition having had favourable weather, but high input costs are expected to have resulted in farmers reducing fertilizer application rates which will reduce yield,” the US Department of Agriculture’s London bureau said.

Output vs consumption

The bureau forecast this year’s UK rapeseed yield at 3.0 tonnes per hectare, below the 3.3 tonnes per hectare achieved last year, and the five-year average of 3.4 tonnes per hectare.

But while this will lift production by 120,000 tonnes to 1.10m tonnes, this will be insufficient to meet the UK’s mounting crush needs, to meet both meal requirements for feed, and oil vegetable oils for both biodiesel production and food use.

“The reopening of hospitality (restaurants and hotels) post-Covid increased the share of oil in food consumption,” the bureau said.

UK rapeseed imports will rise in 2022-23, by 60,000 tonnes to a record 800,000 tonnes, despite the increased domestic harvest, with increased buy-ins of some other oilseeds, and processing products, needed too to meet demand.

‘Demand is growing’

“UK rapeseed production remains low, and demand for seeds, oils and meals is growing,” the bureau said.

“This can only partially be offset by increasing rapeseed and soybean imports,” with the latter expected to swell by 42,000 tonnes to 739,000 tonnes in 2022-23, as starts in July.

Imports of soyoil, for which UK consumption “in food continues to increase”, will grow by 15,000 tonnes to a record 225,000 tonnes, with buy-ins of soymeal, for which feed use “remains high”, will expand by 55,000 tonnes to 2.36m tonnes – also a record top.

The UK is the sixth-largest soymeal importer, after the likes of the European Union, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The bureau also forecast record UK imports of sunflower seed, up 35,000 tonnes year on year at 350,000 tonnes, and increases in buy-ins too of the likes of rapeseed oil, palm oil and fish meal, with sunflower seed meal volumes seen soaring by 34% to 298,000 tonnes.

The estimates imply continued strength in UK rapeseed prices, with values tied to import parity, at a time when benchmark Paris futures values stand close to record highs.

Ukraine factor

The bureau acknowledged, however, the uncertainty presented by the war in Ukraine, the top sunflower grower, and a major rapeseed exporter to Europe.

“Depending on further developments [in Ukraine], oilseeds market conditions and current assumptions made in this report may change fast and significantly.”

USDA staff warned last week that “there are many uncertainties regarding maintenance, cultivation, and harvest of Ukrainian crops, as a notable part of the oilseeds area is located within battle zones.

“Furthermore, the scarcity of labour, fuels, and other input like fertilizers and pesticides may significantly reduce yield potential or even prevent planting.

“Another element of uncertainty is the question of current oilseeds stocks and stocks facilities in Ukraine. Will stocks be used locally? When will Ukraine be able to resume exports?”