Wheat exports to Algeria: France-Russia match

For many observers, Algeria is the country of choice for the French grain sector in terms of wheat imports. Due to the competition of Russian wheat, this proverb no longer seems relevant.

Black Sea wheat and especially Russian wheat are of interest to Algeria today. “We were satisfied with the wheat imported from Russia”, just pointed out Nasreddine Messaoudi, Secretary General of the Algerian Office of Professional Grains (OAIC). Competition between France and Russia in Algeria’s lucrative grain market is fierce.

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During the Global Grain held in Geneva on November 16, the representative of the Algerian grain monopoly highly appreciated the qualities of Russian wheat. Be it for protein content, baking power, or specific gravity “often superior to European origins”.

Black sea wheat is rich in protein

Black sea wheat and Russian wheat are especially rich in protein, averaging up to 12.5% ​​with peaks of 14%. An important quality criterion for making bread.

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This feature is related to the fertility of soils, chernozems; black soil with a high proportion of organic matter.

Another advantage of Russian agriculture: the availability of nitrogen fertilizers. Because wheat produces more protein with nitrogen fertilizers brought to the culture. However, industrial fertilizers require large amounts of gas. Unlike France, Russia has abundant gas.

French wheat is looking for protein

On the French side, the amount of protein is reduced. Only 42% of soft wheat harvested this year has more than 11.5% protein, compared to 80% in 2021.

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Reason ? Better yields meant the grains were especially loaded with starch. There is another reason for the French sector to publish these figures: the rise in the price of nitrogen fertilizers.

Under the title in August “Prices continue to rise” Terre-net Media published the testimony of French farmers: “I bought my fertilizer for 600 euros, I think I agreed. Let me remind you that I bought it in 2020 for 150 euros and in 2021 for 300 euros. Will I get 1200 next year at this rate? »

Analysts say French farmers are facing rising nitrogen fertilizer prices. “It was also catalysed by increases in urea prices from the Maghreb and the Middle East and increased freight costs. » Remember: without nitrogen, there is no protein-rich wheat.

French farmers are also facing environmental measures that reduce the use of nitrogen fertilizers, which are blamed for contaminating groundwater with nitrates.

French wheat susceptible to sprouting on vine

Although French wheat benefits from geographical proximity to Algeria, it is vulnerable to late rains. Rains, which can be the beginning of the germination of grains.

This germination is sometimes invisible to the naked eye, but a laboratory test can detect it: the Hagberg test. Fall time and therefore the test expressed in seconds.

The specification of the Office of Algerian Grains (OAIC) ​​indicates that this parameter should not be less than 240 seconds. The shorter the steeping time, the less consistency the flour will have as the wheat germinates.

If in 2022, 96% of French common wheat tested under 240 seconds, this figure was only 52% of the previous year’s crop.

Reason : “Extremely frequent and widespread summer rains in the area” According to FranceAgriMer and Arvalis. Pre-harvest rains that will trigger germination. However, sprouted wheat flour does not make good bread.

Even worse, if we can make blends between wheats of different protein levels, this is not possible with sprouted wheats. They are practically not recovered for baking.

France-Russia, close match

In July 2021, the specialized site Agflow talked about Russian wheat with a Hagberg test of up to 350 seconds and Ukrainian wheat up to 450 seconds. Something to make bakers happy.

However, Russian wheat has two weaknesses. The first concerns their insect attack: the wheat beetle. The quality of flour decreases. The OAIC specification has long specified a limiting degree of hardened grains of 1%. This excluded Russian wheat. However, in mid-November 2021, this rate was reduced to 0.5%.

In this regard, Nasreddine Messaoudi seemed optimistic: “There is progress. We have values ​​between 0.3% and 0.4%. » Thus, the obstacle is removed.

Thick railroad cars. The Canadian publication “The Western Producer” reported the analysis of the Russian-based consulting company “Sovecon” in its issue dated November 7: “The shortage of grain wagons remains a major problem for exports, and the demand for trucks is extremely high, especially for the Kara Toprak-Rostov/Azov route. »

Are imports linked to technology transfer?

Whether in Algeria, Morocco or Egypt, the traditional commercial positions of the French grain sector are being questioned. For its part, the OAIC pursues a cautious policy. In Geneva, his representative observed that Algeria was diversifying its sources of supply “With 18 countries”, by adding “All import origins, including Europe (and France), were satisfactory.”

Imports from 18 different countries including Lithuania. An origin that did not leave the Prime Minister indifferent last year: “Due to many factors, we import wheat from a country whose territory is 1% of Algeria, that is, Lithuania, what happened? »

OAIC purchases may be linked to a request for technology transfer, particularly in the form of exchanges between Algerian, French, Russian or Lithuanian grain producers.

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