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BEIJING/SINGAPORE: China's massive livestock sector is set to snap up millions of tonnes of wheat from the country's winter harvest that began this month, extending a run of crop-switching in animal feed and further cooling demand for corn imports.

Corn imports surged last year after a decline in stockpiles and production, pushing up prices and reshaping global grain markets as feed producers and pig farmers scoured the world for supplies. At the same time, China's feed sector purchased record volumes of cheaper wheat from the 2020/21 season for use as a substitute for corn, traditionally the main grain in animal rations.

"Feed demand for wheat is expected to remain very high in the new crop year, as wheat still has obvious advantages against old corn, based on current prices," said Li Hongchao, a senior analyst with trade website Myagric.com. While China caps low-tariff corn imports at 7.2 million tonnes a season, buyers imported a record 11.29 million tonnes in calendar 2020, mainly from the United States, as high domestic prices made imports economical even when paying tariffs.

Feed lots began large-scale wheat substitution from late 2020, effectively easing tight corn supplies and securing domestic feed grain supplies, said Qi Chiming, an analyst with the China National Grain & Oils Information Center (CNGOIC), an official think tank.