Soviet grain crop up, US exports down

The Soviet Union appears headed for a grain harvest far larger than envisioned earlier, casting further gloom on American hopes for a powerful upturn in United States farm exports. The US Department of Agriculture now says the Soviets probably will produce 210 million metric tons in 1986, a full 15 million tons above the amount estimated last month. The 210 million-ton figure initially came from a senior official of the Politburo on Nov. 6 and has been repeated frequently in the Soviet media since then, the department said.

Independent US confirmation of the estimate was reflected in the new forecast, however, the department said. The production increase represents a boost in the world supply and thus cannot be good news for US growers already impatient to increase exports.

The Agriculture Department's estimate of Soviet grain imports was reduced Wednesday by 21 million tons, down 5 million from a month ago and at the lowest level since 1978-79, when the Soviets brought in a record crop. Soviet wheat imports were pegged at 12 million tons, a 2 million reduction and the lowest level since 1980.

The department said that ``wheat imports could well be even lower except that the USSR appears to be importing significant quantities of feed-quality wheat from Canada and the European Community.'' It estimated Soviet wheat purchases so far this year at 6 million tons, with Canada as the major seller followed by the European Community and Australia. The report said figures indicated that the Soviet Union probably has not covered all of its import needs for the early months of 1987.

``Argentina and the United States are the only countries among the traditional suppliers who have yet to make sales to the USSR,'' the department said.

In a separate report, it cited a modest increase in US wheat exports in the early months of the marketing year compared with the same period last year.

Producers complain that the spotty gains are not anything like the magnitude needed to give US agriculture a boost.

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