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Following abundant rains last month, which eased crop damage caused by a drought, soybean and corn output in Brazil this year will drop less than previously forecasted, according to the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture.

Brazilian farmers are expected to harvest 57.6 million tons of soybeans this year, compared with a February forecast of 57.2 million tons, the ministry's crop-forecasting agency said in a report released Monday. However production will fall from the 60 million tons of last year admitted Conab (National Suppliers Company).

Rainfall in the Midwestern states of Mato Grosso and Goiás helped crops hurt by a drought, said Silvio Porto, logistics director of Conab. The agency may increase its soybean-output forecast again next month to 58 million tons because of increased rainfall starting in January in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, he said.

"We were conservative in our forecast this month," Porto said at a news conference in Brazilian capital Brasí­lia. "We'll send our staff to the field to ensure our expectations that the rains in the South will help soybean output to improve even more."

Corn farmers will harvest 50.4 million tons, compared with a previous estimate of 50.3 million tons, according to Conab. Production will fall from 58.7 million tons last year. The estimates are based on a survey carried out from February 16 to 19.

"Rains occurred in a form sufficient to meet the needs of the principal crops and favor the filling of grains and the maturation of soybeans and corn," Conab said in the report.

Brazil is the world's second-biggest soybean producer after the US and among the leading corn producers.

Meanwhile press reports from São Paulo indicated that Brazil had purchased 25.000 tons of Russian hard wheat for delivery to Brazil's northeast in May, as Brazilian mills prepare to find alternatives to scarce Argentine wheat this year.

Apparently the Russian wheat was priced with a US$ 60 per ton discount on a cost-and-freight basis to US hard wheat, the sources said. Freight costs for shipment from the Black Sea are estimated at around 24 a ton, comparable with those from North America.

The Brazilian government and trade sources estimate Brazil will have to import between 1 million and 2 million tons of wheat this year from outside Mercosur.

Brazil's trade ministry has said it will zero out Brazil's common import tariff of 10% on wheat later in the year, as it did in 2008 when it allowed up to 2 million tons of wheat from outside Mercosur to enter Brazil tariff free through July 31.

Argentina typically supplies Brazil with 95% of its wheat import needs. But Argentina's most recent harvest was down by nearly half its previous year's output.

Brazilian trade sources believe the country could import around half of its extra-Mercosur wheat needs from Russia this season, with Canada likely to be the other source, due to the competitive prices of both origins compared with US hard wheat.

Brazil's northeast imports North American wheat fairly regularly to make up for hard wheat from Argentina. In 2008, most of the non-Mercosur wheat imports came from the US and some from Canada, totaling just over 1 million tons.

Brazil is largely self-sufficient in soft wheat production, used in cookies and crackers mostly, but still needs to add hard wheat to improve the quality of many bread flour blends offered in the country.

Mercopress

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