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  • Unconventional Ag

Fears Grow of Chinese Restriction Soaring Sorghum Imports

Concerns are mounting that China is preparing to restrict its soaring sorghum imports as a way to re-direct domestic feed buyers to buy down the country’s enormous corn inventories.

Continuing a four-year long climb in volumes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts China’s sorghum imports at 9 million tons in its first global crop report for 2015/2016. Prior to 2011/2012, China had never imported more than 84,000 tons of sorghum in a single marketing year, and even though Chinese buyers have already contracted shipments to be delivered later this year, the USDA bureau in Beijing warns that the surge in imports could alert the government, causing import curbs to be enacted.

“The Chinese government has begun to pay close attention to the rapid increase in sorghum imports,” states the bureau. The bureau adds that there are some voices claiming that higher sorghum imports are making it more difficult for the government to sell its corn stocks, which are forecast to increase by 9 million tons to 88.7 million tons, the equivalent to five months’ consumption.

Inspections of sorghum shipments have increased, and the government may be positioning itself to add limits to imports, which currently have no imposed quotas. Within the past week, officials in Shenzen reportedly detected a fungus that caused grapevine blight in a 49,000 ton U.S. sorghum shipment, while a cargo of sorghum from Australia was rejected by Chinese authorities because of one Johnson grass seed, according to Darrell Holaday of Country Futures.

A similar scenario played out last year regarding U.S. corn imports, when Chinese authorities began rejecting U.S. corn shipments because of the presence of a genetically modified strain of Syngenta corn not yet approved by Beijing.

Because of the risk associated with the government once again rejecting corn shipments because of a biotech trait, many Chinese buyers are sourcing corn from Ukraine or domestically, despite the higher costs and lower quality and consistency. As a result of the temporary ban, China’s imports of U.S. corn are expected to fall to 103,000 tons for 2014/2015, and 100,000 for 2015/2016.

Soaring demand from China has driven a doubling of global sorghum imports over the past three years to 10.7 million tons, while imports for 2015/2016 are expected to reach a 31-year high of 11 million tons, pushing the price of sorghum above that for corn. This is good news for sorghum exporting countries such as the U.S. and Australia, but new restrictions by the Chinese government could remove this market potential.

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