ROME, ITALY — The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Price Index held steady at 210 points in January after three straight months of decline. Increases in oil and fats prices offset lower cereals and sugar quotations while dairy and meat values remained substantially unchanged. 
The pause in the Index's decline tallies with a significant upward revision in FAO's latest forecast for 2012 world cereal production. This is now estimated at 2.302 billion tonnes - 20 million tonnes up on December's forecast. 
FAO's monthly Cereals Supply and Demand Brief noted that the revision mostly reflects adjustments to maize production estimates in China, North America and the European CIS countries. But even at the new level, global cereal output would still be down 2% from 2011’s record crop. 
Early prospects for 2013 cereal production point to increased world wheat output. Contributing largely to this prospect is an estimated 4% to 5% increase in the area under wheat in the E.U., where weather conditions have also been generally favorable so far.
But in the U.S., the outlook is less favorable. Despite an estimated 1% increase in winter wheat plantings and prospects for spring wheat areas to expand, severe drought conditions continue to plague the southern Plains, where the condition of crops is reported to be very poor.
"Given the tight supply situation, weather remains an important determinant of prices. For several cereals, production needs to increase significantly this year in order to avoid unexpected price surges," said FAO Senior Grains Economist Abdolreza Abbassian. 
World cereal stocks at the close of the crop seasons ending in 2013 are put at around 495 million tonnes, giving a global cereal stock-to-use ratio of 20.6%, down from 22% in 2011-12 but above the low of 18.7% in 2007-08. 
World trade in cereals in 2012-13 is forecast to fall to 297.5 million tonnes, down 6% from the previous season but nearly 2 million tonnes higher than the December forecast. Among the emerging features of the world grain market in 2013 is the resumption of large wheat exports from India of 6.5 million tonnes and record maize shipments from Brazil of 22 million tonnes easing the global grain supply/demand situation. 
Regarding current international prices, the FAO Cereal Price Index dropped 1.1%, or nearly three points, to 247 points in January. The Cereal Index has been falling since October, mostly reflecting improved crop conditions.
The FAO Oils/Fats Price Index averaged 205 in January, up 4.4%, or 9 points, from December, reversing declines in the last four months. The rebound was mainly driven by palm oil on account of fresh import demand.