MANDAN, NORTH DAKOTA, U.S. — Export sales of U.S. Hard Red Spring wheat (HRS) through the first six weeks of 2010-11 are 26% higher than in the 2009 marketing year, the North Dakota Wheat Commission said on July 30.

Total sales stand at 60 million bushels with sales up by 25% to Asia, the largest HRS export destination. Sales to the African/Middle East region are nearly double a year ago, due to strong buying from Nigeria and Kenya. Sales are higher in some Central and South American countries like Columbia, Guatemala and Mexico, helping to account for the 18% increase in sales to that region so far in 2010-11.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is projecting a higher HRS export outlook for the current marketing year with sales expected to reach 240 million bushels by May 2011. This would be a 16% increase over last year.

According to Erica Olson, North Dakota Wheat Commission marketing specialist, "A continued shortage of higher protein wheat in world supplies and reduced wheat acreage in Canada, should provide more demand opportunities for the U.S. HRS crop."

The latest estimates from Canada point to a spring wheat crop which could be down 10% to 15% from a year ago, whereas the latest USDA estimate of the U.S. 2010 HRS crop is 567 million bushels, up from 548 million last year.

"A key factor in optimizing our improved demand opportunities will be harvesting a sound, high grading crop that is closer to average in protein content," Olson said. "In 2009, our record low protein levels did create challenges in some markets, but also provided opportunities in others. Our sales accelerated in the spring of 2010 enabling us to hold fairly steady in most of our traditional markets with some gains in the African region."

In the 2009-10 marketing year, which ended May 31, Japan remained the top buyer with purchases of 52.5 million bushels, accounting for just over one quarter of all U.S. HRS exports. The Philippines was the second largest buyer with 29.2 million bushels, followed by Taiwan with 15.4 million, Korea at 10.6 million and Venezuela at 8.4 million.

Other markets in the top 10 included Thailand, El Salvador, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Nigeria. Asia is by far the largest region for U.S. HRS, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the total. Latin and South American destinations accounted for 25%, the African/Middle East region accounted for 7% and Europe for 5%. The share for the Africa/Middle East region increased by 3% on the year, while the European share dropped by 5%.

"The improved sales pace thus far in 2010 is due in part to carryover sales from the 2009 crop, but we anticipate good sales for new crop positions as well, especially if our protein levels come in closer to average," Olson said.

USDA is projecting U.S. durum exports to reach 55 million bushels in 2010, up nearly 30% from last year's strong export season. Durum sales so far this year are up nearly 50%, reaching just over 13 million bushels, compared to 8.7 million the same time a year ago. Export sales are nearly three times greater than one year ago to the Central and South American region, mainly due to increased purchases by Columbia. In the African region, demand is more than double last year's pace with sizeable sales to Algeria and Nigeria.

Jim Peterson, North Dakota Wheat Commission marketing director said, "It is certainly positive to see the strong USDA projections, and early season confirmation of higher demand for U.S. durum. The high quality of our 2009 crop, along with strong supplies is putting us in a good position to capture demand in the front half of the marketing year. This is similar to how the 2009 marketing year started."

In the 2009-10 marketing year, Italy remained the top buyer of U.S. durum with purchases totaling 12.6 million bushels. Total U.S. durum sales last year finished substantially higher than expected due in part to a rebound in sales to the North African region. In fact, the African/Middle East region was the top export region, accounting for 46% of total U.S. durum exports, up from 30% one year ago and slightly higher than the E.U.’s share of 43%.

Algeria's purchases totaled just over 9 million bushels making them the second largest buyer, followed by Nigeria with 3.7 million, Morocco with 2.7 million and Venezuela with 2 million. Other countries in the top ten included Turkey, Tunisia, the Netherlands, Costa Rica and Belgium.

"Improved crop prospects in Europe in 2010 may trim sales to that region this year, but the strong start in the African and Latin American region are positives we hope to build on. We have another large crop in the making and hopefully we are able to harvest a sound, high quality crop to optimize our improved demand opportunities," said Peterson.