Asian hunger for US noodle wheat may bolster prices

US wheat price

For the second straight year, Asia must rely on the United States and Canada for most of its top-quality wheat, as rains have cut the protein content in grain from traditional supplier Australia.

Asian nations are among the world's biggest buyers of the superior quality, protein-rich wheat that is used to make noodles, a staple food across the region. This hunger could support prices on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, and widen spreads with the lower-grade soft wheat traded in Chicago.

Australia, the world's fourth largest wheat exporter, has been hit by unusually bad weather for two years in row, which has degraded the quality and quantity of its crop.

Last year, New South Wales and Queensland, the top prime hard wheat producing states, were inundated by floods which turned nearly half of the crop into feed-quality grain. This year, it saw an unseasonably cold and wet spring.

Analysts estimate production of Australian prime hard wheat at just half a million tonnes this year, down from an output of nearly two million tonnes in an average year.

The wet season has been very detrimental to the crop, a lot of protein wheat is not just milling quality, it will go into feed rations, said Ole Houe, director of advisory services at Sydney-based brokerage Advance Trading Australasia.

On top of that, we planted in very high moisture, he said. You get good yields but lower protein.

Because of the damage to the Australian grain, Indonesia and Japan, the world's third and fourth largest wheat buyers, are likely to seek more of the higher-protein, spring wheat from the United States. Competing with them will be key Asian importers South Korea, Malaysia and Bangladesh.

Indonesia, Asia's top wheat buyer and one of Australia's biggest customers, is estimated to import 6.7 million tonnes in 2011/12, with most its high-quality milling wheat needs coming from the United States and Canada.

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