European Union grain imports will reach their highest in at least 22 years this season, as the bloc grapples with the void to its feed supplies left by drought damage to its corn harvest.

The European Commission lifted by 1.0m tonnes to 32.65m tonnes its forecast for EU grain imports in 2022-23, as started in July.

Imports at that level would swell more than 10.0m tonnes above last season’s level to the highest on commission data going back to 2001-02, which incorporated UK volumes too up to 2019-20.

The upgrade follows a rapid start to the season for imports of many grains, with imports of barley, corn, sorghum and soft wheat all running at more than twice their year-ago pace as 2022-23 approaches the halfway stage.

Bigger wheat importer than Nigeria

The grain import upgrade reflected a 1.0m-tonne increase in the forecast for soft wheat buy-ins this season, to an 11-year high of 5.0m tonnes.

Combined with a forecast for durum purchases of 2.30m tonnes, that would take total wheat imports to 7.30m tonnes – sufficient, on US Department of Agriculture estimates, to rank the EU seventh in the table of the world’s top wheat importers

The bloc would rank ahead of the likes of the Philippines, Nigeria and Bangladesh – although will remain a significant net exporter, with the commission maintaining at 34.0m tonnes its forecast for the bloc’s soft wheat exports this season, and at 900,000 tonnes the estimate for durum shipments.

Soft wheat imports so far this season are, at 3.80m tonnes, nearly triple the 1.36m tonnes recorded for the same period of last season.

Ukraine, providing 2.45m tonnes, has been by far the biggest origin of these imports, with the UK, a source of feed wheat, second on 546,375 tonnes.

Harvest downgrades

Indeed, EU requirements for wheat for animal feed have been swollen by the drought damage to the bloc’s corn harvest, which the commission downgraded again, this time by 1.19m tonnes to 53.29m tonnes, the smallest in 15 years.

The commission cited a “smaller area in Hungary” than it had previously factored in “and smaller area and lower yield estimation in Spain and Italy”.

The estimate for the soft wheat harvest was cut too, by 545,000 tonnes to 126.4m tonnes “due to revised data from Denmark, with smaller area and lower yield estimation”.

Nonetheless, the commission lifted by 500,000 tones to a four-year high of 42.0m tonnes its forecast for use of soft wheat in animal feed this season, supporting the need for extra imports of the grain