Bulgaria's wheat trade pressured by ongoing Kosovo crisis

by Teresa Acklin
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   SOFIA, BULGARIA — Bulgaria's 1999 wheat output should cover the country's consumption needs but the crisis in neighboring Yugoslavia may prompt greater exports, creating a shortfall at home.

   This year's wheat crop in Bulgaria is likely to fall by 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes, mainly because of the rainy spring and reduced planting area, according to Hristo Milenkov, a board member of the Sofia Commodity Exchange. Last year Bulgaria harvested 3.3 million tonnes of wheat from 1.08 million hectares. The expected 1999 wheat output of 2.7 to 2.8 million tonnes from 896,432 hectares planted is just enough to cover domestic consumption needs, according to Mr. Milenkov.

   He said Bulgaria was already feeling pressure on the grain market from the Kosovo crisis. Recent NATO air strikes were targeted at the Novi Sad region, which is the main wheat production region in Serbia.

   Another concern is the continuing refugee influx to neighboring Macedonia. An increase in bread consumption in Macedonia will likely be covered by wheat supplies from Bulgaria and Greece, Mr. Milenkov said.

   The spot price ex-farmer in May in Bulgaria was in a range of 160,000 to 165,000 levs (U.S.$87 to $89) per tonne of wheat with single deals as high as 170,000 levs, according to one grain production and trade firm in Sophia, compared with prices of 140,000 to 145,000 per tonne in April. Bulgaria has not yet developed trade in warehouse receipts and prices are usually quoted spot ex-farmer.

   In 1996, increased exports, combined with a poor harvest in the previous year, led to acute shortages in Bulgaria, forcing the government to import about 230,000 tonnes. Last year Bulgaria exported a total of 843,000 tonnes of wheat.