WASHINGTON, DC, US — China was the world’s largest importer of wheat in marketing year 2022-23, bringing in an estimated 12 million tonnes, according to the Grain: World Markets and Trade issued by the Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

It is the highest level of imports since 1995-96, when the nation imported 12.5 million tonnes, the USDA said. The next highest importers were Turkey and the EU, both at 10.5 million tonnes, and Indonesia at 10 million tonnes.

Grain prices in China have stayed high due to the country’s minimum support policy and reduced auction activity caused by the uncertainty surrounding the government’s COVID-19 policies, the USDA said. Wheat prices have stayed around $450 per tonne in the past year while corn prices have averaged above $400 per tonne.

At the same time, international wheat prices have trended lower, falling below $400 per tonne with ample exportable supplies from Australia, the EU and Canada.

“Competitive pricing has prompted China to import large volumes of both milling and feed quality wheat,” the USDA said. “Australian wheat is especially competitive following three consecutive years of record crops.”

China’s purchases of Australian wheat from July-February were up 66% compared to the previous year, while imports from Canada were up 83%.

Some Chinese feed mills are substituting corn with imported wheat in feed rations.

“Although China’s wheat feed use is down year-over-year as corn feed use rebounds, it still represents a quarter of the country’s total wheat consumption,” the USDA said. “Food, seed, and industrial use, meanwhile, remains robust.”