Feed compounders across the EU are preparing to import maize from Brazil, sorghum from the USA and tapioca from Brazil, Thailand or Nigeria in a desperate effort to reduce livestock feed costs.
An explosion in feed costs is expected on the back of record EU feed wheat and barley prices.
French analysts Strategie Grains, have predicted a 2.5 million tonne rise in EU maize imports to 8.09 million tonnes over 2007-2008, and HGCA has confirmed some has already arrived in Rotterdam from Brazil, possibly priced at £150-£160 per tonne plus levy.
Maize and maize gluten imports from Argentina and USA are not currently approved by the EC, due to GM complications, but Brazilian maize and maize products have a clean bill of health.
According to the HGCA, import licenses for the delivery of 500,000 tonnes of high-energy sorghum were approved by the EC in the two months up to September 4, compared with only 1,000t over the same period last year.
“None has arrived in the UK yet but it can be put on the boat for US$197 (£100) per tonne, is currently free of levy and, even after freight charges, is a competitive substitute for feed wheat,” said HGCA economist, Michael Archer. Interest in tapioca, last imported into the UK more than ten years ago, reflects compounder concern over red-hot EU feed grain prices.
Import prices for this high-starch low-energy root crop have still to be nailed down but compounders have used it before and are ready to include it in balanced rations.
Beleaguered chicken, pig and beef farmers are hoping the importation of cheaper feed substitutes will soften soaring feed costs but while HGCA concedes that their arrival could cool the domestic wheat and barley market it warns that much depends on the strength of demand.
“The world balance sheet for feed grain and its alternatives is tight and there is still scope for wheat and barley prices to move either way. Imports will raise the volume of product available but their impact could very easily be countered by frustrated demand,” said Mr Archer.
The Agricultural Industries Confederation confirms that price and availability has forced compounders to search globally for a wider range of feed material.
“But they are nervous of GM testing issues surrounding maize and soya – particularly from the US,” said AIC policy head Paul Rook.
“Brazil has the capacity, and wish, to deliver maize to the EU in the volumes required but I would be surprised if imports over 2007-2008 reached the levels anticipated by some, because new buyers are always at the back of the queue.”
“However there is already pressure on the European Commission to soften its approach on GM authorisation and approval, because access to US maize and soya is seen by many as the only way to keep to EU livestock feed prices at realistic levels in the medium term.”