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PARIS: Farm office FranceAgriMer on Wednesday increased its forecast of French soft wheat exports outside the European Union this season on brisk overseas demand but kept its stocks estimate stable.

France, the EU’s biggest grain producer, was now expected to ship 7.45 million tonnes of soft wheat outside the EU’s 27 countries in 2020/21, up from 7.27 million tonnes estimated last month, FranceAgriMer said.

That was nonetheless 45.1% below a record 13.57 million tonnes in 2019/20.

The upward revision to this season’s export forecast was “above all because international demand is still active,” Marion Duval, deputy head of FranceAgriMer’s grains unit, told reporters.

After brisk Chinese demand drove French wheat exports in the first half of the July-June season, demand was expected to shift back towards traditional outlets like Algeria, Morocco and Egypt in the latter part of the season, she said.

Traders say competition from a big Australian harvest was curbing French wheat prospects in China, although high prices in Russia and Ukraine were keeping French wheat competitive in closer markets.

Forecast French soft wheat stocks at the end of the current season were put at around 2.5 million tonnes like last month.

A 155,000 tonne increase in the estimated amount of crop to be put on the market by farmers and a slight cut to projected wheat use in livestock feed broadly offset increased extra export demand outside the EU, FranceAgriMer said.

Projected French barley stocks at the end of 2020/21 were trimmed to 1.0 million tonnes from 1.1 million last month.

Soft wheat and barley stocks were relatively low, with soft wheat inventories set to reach a seven-year low but adequate to supply the market until the next harvest, Duval said.

Expected maize stocks were stable compared with January’s estimate at around 1.9 million tonnes but remained very tight at a potential 14-year low, she said.

Livestock feed demand taken from wheat, however, was offset by an estimated loss of 50,000 tonnes in maize use due to bird flu hitting French duck farms, she added.