ISTANBUL BLOG: Russian wheat importer Turkey becomes a wheat exporter

ISTANBUL BLOG: Russian wheat importer Turkey becomes a wheat exporter
Bon appetit. / social media
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade January 31, 2024

Turkey’s grain board TMO will on February 1 hold a tender to collect bids for the export of 150,000 tonnes of durum wheat, or pasta wheat.

Veysel Kaya (@SUNSEEDMAN), owner of agricultural brokerage consulting company Sunseedman, pointed to the tender on X.

Turkey, a former wheat importer, is also becoming a natural gas and oil exporter, though it boasts very few such hydrocarbons of its own. Thanks to consignments that are flowing via a shadowy Turkish energy trans-shipment terminal to a Greek refinery, even US Navy warships are using some Russian oil, according to a couple of disgruntled American senators.

In June 2022, Turkey’s government allowed TMO to buy grains directly, rather than via public tenders.

In August 2022, bne Intellinews posed the question: “Who will be the next Reza Zarrab?” Zarrab was the key figure in the Iran sanctions-busting scheme that ran through Turkey’s Halkbank. He is currently operating a horse farm in the US.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022, the West’s politicians announced volleys of sanctions and the media cooked up a big fuss. Does such a media fuss serve as a real “deterrent force” that scares off potential sanctions busters. Academics won’t need to spend too long on that one.

Joking about the West’s PR traditions in sanctions (good PR when it comes to the masses at home, but no good for anything else) apart, when it comes to Turkey’s Erdogan regime, a simple trade-off is at work here.

Preventing Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, from exercising his habit of breaching the West’s sanctions while at the same time using Turkish soldiers in every conflict from Libya to Afghanistan (a practice that is even easier than deploying cheap media tools) is a no-no.

The mainstream media audience, of course, may miss this salient point as they are constantly served up a diet of “concerns” and “tensions” over sanctions in international relations coverage. Part of that misleading dance show are regular stories on how Erdogan officials are supposedly responding to pressure from US officials by bearing down on sanctions-breaking trade flows to Russia.

In October last year, SaskToday reported on how the international durum market had taken a “wild” turn as Turkey had come out of nowhere to emerge as a major force in exports of this wheat variety.

Also in October, Turkey’s sunflower seed production was forecast to contract by 20% in marketing year 2023-24 due to a persistent drought that has hit the country’s most important sunflower-producing region.

And another neat development: Turkey’s wheat production is expected to rise while its imports are expected to decline in the 2023/24 season.

In its latest grains and agricultural production reports released on January 12, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated Turkey's wheat production would rise to 19.5mn tonnes in the 2023/24 marketing year from 17.25mn tonnes a year ago. The USDA also saw Turkey’s wheat imports at 10mn tonnes, down from 13mn tonnes a year ago.

Turkey: Wheat Balance
mn tonnes               2023/24
Wheat Average 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22 2022/23 USDA estimate
Production (May - June) 18 21 19 18 18 16 17 20
Domestic Consumption 20 18 19 20 21 20 21 21
Export (re-export flour and pasta) 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 9
Import (July - June) 9 6 7 11 8 10 13 10
Balance 1 2 0 2 -1 -1 2 0
Ending stock         4 2 4 3
Harvest season from mid to late May in Cukurova and Southern Anatolia to early to mid-July

Table: Turkey’s wheat balance.

In the June 2022 to June 2023 season, Turkey remained the largest importer of Russian wheat, with imports rising to 9.2mn tonnes from 6.8mn tonnes a year ago.

Chart: Top importers of Russian wheat in the 2022/23 season (@rusgrain).

Also in the 2022/23 season, Turkey remained the top importer of Russian grains. Imports rose to 12.6mn tonnes from 9.4mn tonnes.

Chart: Top importers of Russian grains in the 2022/23 season (@rusgrain).

In the first half of the 2023/24 season, Turkey remained the top importer of Russian grains, although its imports declined to 4.3mn tonnes from 4.9mn tonnes.

Screenshot: Top importers of Russian grains in the 1H 2023/24 season (@rusgrain).