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BEIJING: China imported fewer soybeans in March than a year earlier, customs data showed on Wednesday, as bad weather delayed exports from Brazil and poor crush margins curbed demand.

The world’s top importer of soybeans brought in 6.35 million tonnes of the oilseed in March, down 18% from 7.77 million tonnes in March 2021, General Administration of Customs data showed.

Arriving shipments in the first three months of the year were down 4.2% from a year earlier, at 20.28 million tonnes, according to the data. “Supplies were tight in March and the demand for soymeal was cut,” said a manager with a major crusher in China.

“Soybeans this month are still tight. It is hard to say when the tightness will ease. It really depends on what the feed producers think,” said the manager, referring to demand from the massive livestock sector.

Chinese prices of soybean meal rose from the beginning of the year to record highs late in March, as supplies of beans tightened after drought hit the crop in top supplier Brazil, delaying its harvest, though prices later fell from the peak.

Crushers were also slow in making purchases as poor hog margins weighed on crush margins, said traders.

Board crush margins for soybeans for delivery in the period from May to July were around minus 200 yuan to minus 300 yuan (minus $31 to minus $47) per tonne, discouraging buying for future delivery.

Farmers nationwide are losing 300 yuan to 600 yuan for each pig raised, which on soymeal demand.

Beijing has been releasing soybeans from state reserves, increasing supply of the oilseed, which can be crushed into soymeal and cooking oil.

That move, coupled with market expectations of more soybean arrivals in coming months, has helped cool soymeal prices, though they have climbed back up in the past few days.

Prices were pushed up by low rates of operation at crushing plants and recent anti-COVID measures that had restricted transportation of the feed ingredient, said Zou Honglin, an analyst with the agriculture section of China-based consultancy Mysteel.

China’s imports of vegetable oils from January to March plunged 62.8% from a year earlier, to 1.047 million tonnes. March imports were 307,000 tonnes, down 61%, customs data also showed.

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