Morocco’s drought to support Prairie durum prospects

Drought concerns in Spain and Morocco could bode well for Canadian durum exports, as the two Mediterranean countries are both major producers of the crop.

"The dryness in Morocco has been building since December, and we’ve seen it continue to build," said Stuart McMillan, a weather and crop analyst with the CWB in Winnipeg.

Nearby Algeria and Tunisia have seen adequate moisture for their durum crops, but expectations for Morocco’s durum crop have declined considerably.

After two to three years of favourable weather and good yields, cyclical North African weather patterns have trended back to dryness, said McMillan. The cyclical weather also leads to cyclical demand from the region, which is a major player in the world durum market, he said.

He estimated the Moroccan durum crop was advanced to the point where rainfall would provide very little upside to the production prospects.

As a result, Morocco’s durum crop may end up about a third of the size of the previous year’s, said McMillan. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture pegs all wheat production in the country, including durum, at 2.3 million tonnes, which compares with 5.8 million in 2011-12.

Weather patterns keeping moisture out of Morocco have also caused problems across the Strait of Gibraltar, in Spain.

The challenges in Spain mean the country won’t be in a position to meet any export demand that comes out of Morocco this year, said McMillan.

Morocco recently signed a free trade agreement with the U.S., which means U.S. durum may be more likely to fill any increased demand from the North African country.

However, U.S. supplies are also on the tight side, and the relatively small number of players in the international durum market will see Canadian prices supported as well.

Canada exported 597,600 tonnes of durum to Morocco in 2010-11, according to Canadian Grain Commission data, making the country the second largest destination for Canadian durum exports that year.

In the 2011-12 crop year to date, Canada has exported 185,100 tonnes of durum to Morocco, which compares with 412,700 tonnes at the same point the previous year.

Total Canadian durum exports to all destinations in both 2011-12 and the upcoming 2012-13 crop year are currently forecast by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at 3.5 million tonnes. That compares with exports in 2010-11 of 3.304 million.

As far as Canada’s durum crop is concerned, McMillan said recent precipitation in the durum-growing areas of Saskatchewan helped top up moisture levels after a dry winter.

Farmers are showing interest in growing the crop, he said, but any increases in seeded area will be subdued.

The CWB currently forecasts Prairie durum seedings in 2012 at 4.45 million acres, up from 4.02 million in 2011 but slightly below the five-year average of 4.72 million.

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