Chinese maize imports in 2020 reached a record 11.3 million tonnes (mt).

This was more than double the level seen in 2019 and well above its annual quota, which had been set at 7.2mt, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

Speculation is now mounting that Chinese maize imports will amount to 25mt to 27mt this season (2020/21).

Between 18mt and 20mt of this is expected to come from the US.

These levels could get up to 40mt in the coming years, as its pig herd continues to recover, the AHDB stated.

A strong week for maize

Last week, the USDA announced two large bookings of US maize to China. On Tuesday last, 1.36mt was booked.

At the time, this was the largest sale announced since July and the fifth-largest sale of US maize to China on record.

After the deal was announced, Chicago futures rallied again, with May 2021 contracts jumping 3.8%.

However, last Thursday, a further 1.7mt purchase was announced. This is the sixth-largest single-day sale of US maize in records dating back to 1977.

Chinese maize imports in 2020 reached a record high.

The bulk of this demand has come as China is believed to have used much of its maize stocks as it rebuilds its pig herd after the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak 2019.

Soya beans and ethanol imports rise too

Chinese soya bean imports for the season also reached an all-time high at 100.3mt. This is 13% higher than in 2019.

This increase is mainly driven by pig feed demand as numbers recover. Chinese demand is not only supporting US grains and oilseeds, but also US ethanol.

China started to buy US ethanol again for the first time in many years. China has bought 200 million gallons of US ethanol for the first half of 2021, the AHDB reported.

However, despite increased Chinese purchasing, it is still thought that 10% to 15% of US ethanol production capacity is currently turned off.

30-year highs

There are two reasons for the sudden increase in ethanol imports.

The tight domestic supply of maize led to Chinese maize prices reaching 30-year highs.

This made it financially unviable for China to produce enough ethanol to cover demand.

Secondly, ethanol is also being used as a disinfectant and demand is very strong due to the ongoing pandemic.