World winter wheat plantings for the 2023 harvest could yet prove “above average”, despite the elevated costs of inputs, the United Nations said, highlighting weather and conflict setbacks too.

The UN food agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), flagged a series of obstacles to the northern hemisphere’s nearly-finished winter wheat sowings, including the summer flooding which “could result in a decrease” in Pakistan’s plantings.

In Russia too, excessive rains “that hindered land preparation… are expected to cause an area contraction… to a near-average level”, with seedings also discouraged by weak prices, as the country fights for exports following a strong harvest, and against Western financial sanctions.

Russia’s wheat exports are priced at some $317 per tonne, on an FOB basis, according to analysis groups Ikar and SovEcon. According to the International Grains Council, French exports are priced at $336 per tonne, and US soft red winter wheat ones at $346 per tonne.

‘Severe input shortages’

In Ukraine, following Russia’s invasion a “40% decrease in wheat plantings from the five-year average is forecast, as the war continues to constrain access to fields and cause severe input shortages”.

Meanwhile, for the US, the FAO noted that “drought is currently affecting about three-quarters of the winter wheat area, and the drier conditions are forecast to persist in the southern Great Plains until early next year”.

More broadly, the organisation said that “concerns over the affordability of inputs have raised uncertainty over global planting expectations”.

Nonetheless, it added that at a world level, “elevated crop prices could help to maintain an above-average area”, and highlighted “above-average wheat plantings” in China and India.

Growth plans

The outlook appears a little more upbeat than that of the International Grains Council, which forecasts contraction of 0.4% year on year to 222.8m hectares in total wheat area for the 2023 harvest.

That includes the minority spring wheat crop, although factors in a 0.9% increase to 10.1m hectares in total plantings in Canada, a major spring wheat grower.

According to the IGC, China’s area at harvest will be 0.4% higher year on year at 23.7m hectares, and India’s 0.7% larger at 24.6m hectares, although with the US seeing particular growth, of 8.4% to 15.6m hectares.

EU all-wheat area was seen shrinking by 0.8% to 23.9m hectares and Russia’s by 3.2% year on year to 27.8m hectares, with Ukraine suffering a 16.4% drop to 4.6m hectares.

‘Prohibitively expensive’

The FAO’s comments came as it trimmed by 7.2m tonnes to 2.756bn tonnes its estimate for the world’s 2022-23 grains harvest, reflecting in the main a cut to expectations for Ukraine’s corn harvest.

In Ukraine, “the impact of the war has made post-harvesting operations prohibitively expensive, compelling many farmers to leave planted areas unharvested”, the agency said.

Meanwhile, it reported food prices falling further in November, if by a marginal 0.1%, to chalk up an eighth successive monthly decline, the longest losing streak since 1998.

Wheat prices fell by 2.8%, “mostly driven by the rejoining of [Russia] in the Black Sea Grain Initiative and the extension of the agreement, subdued import demand for supplies from the US due to uncompetitive prices, and greater competition in global markets”, the FAO said.

By contrast, sugar prices rose by 5.2%, “related to strong buying amid prevailing tight global sugar supplies due to harvest delays in key producing countries and the announcement by India of a lower sugar export quota”.