Wartime food balance in Ukraine. Part 3.1. Export of grains




Ukraine is one of the leading world exporters of wheat, corn and barley. The domestic consumption of these crops is much lower compared to their exports. The Russian military invasion in Ukraine disrupted internal supply chains and resulted in blockage of Ukrainian seaports that account for 99% of the overall grain export. Thus, the supply of grains to the external markets is paralyzed, the carry-over stocks will grow significantly and the planted area under spring crops will decrease sizably in 2022 that will cut the production and export potential in 2022/23 MY.

APK-Inform has analyzed the influence of war factors on further trends of grain distribution in 2021/22 MY and forecast the export volumes for 2022/23 MY.   

Export geography

Traditionally, Ukraine exports a lion share of its grain production. The share amounted to 70-73% in the recent three seasons. At the same time, the share of domestic consumption did not exceed 30%.

The dominance of export over domestic consumption is typical for major grains – wheat and corn, while the situation is opposite for niche crops. In the segment of barley, the share of export is slightly higher compared to consumption.

Before the war started, Ukraine had shipped 95% of its barley export potential (it was estimated at 6 mln tonnes in February), 81% of wheat (22.5 mln tonnes), and 60% of corn (30 mln tonnes).

With the start of the war, Ukrainian government imposed the export restrictions on some grains – oats, millet, buckwheat and rye – to provide country’s food security. They also implemented export licensing for wheat and corn. For corn, the licenses were eliminated later, as the market participants had urged about record high carry-over stocks, as the export was weak and the domestic consumption was much lower compared to production volume.   


Ukraine is among TOP-5 largest exporters of wheat in the world. According to the USDA, its share was about 9% in the recent three years. The export-to-production ratio was 63-73% in Ukraine from 2018/19 to 2020/21 MY. In 2019/20 MY, Ukraine exported a record 20.6 mln tonnes of wheat, while its production was 28.3 mln tonnes.

In 2021/22 MY, Ukraine produced a record 32.2 mln tonnes of wheat, up 29% y/y. The export was expected at the record level as well. However, the war broke the plan. The shipments of wheat turned to almost zero, as the waters of the Black and Azov Seas were blocked. The key importers of Ukrainian wheat are North Africa, Southeastern and Southern Asia, and the supplies of Ukrainian grain to these countries go by sea. Thus, we estimate Ukrainian wheat export at 18.6 mln tonnes in 2021/22 MY, up 12% y/y.

Egypt and Indonesia have been the main destinations for Ukrainian wheat for many years. Their common share totals about 15-16% in the overall wheat export.

Indonesia covered 24-27% of its wheat imports with Ukrainian grain in the last three seasons. Usually, August-November period is a peak of Indonesian wheat import. Thus, over 8 months of 2021/22 MY, Ukraine already covered 24% of the expected Indonesian import. The USDA forecast Indonesian wheat import at 11 mln tonnes in 2021/22 MY. The country also imports wheat from Canada, Argentina, the USA and Australia. If the war in Ukraine continues, Indonesia will increase purchases from these countries.

The average share of Ukraine was 22 on the market of Egypt from 2018/19 to 2020/21 MY. It was maximum 29% in 2019/20 MY. In July-February, Ukraine exported 2.7 mln tonnes of wheat to Egypt, or 23% of the forecasted import in 2021/22 MY (12 mln tonnes). Russia (60% of the overall import in last three seasons) and the EU (15%) are the main competitors of Ukraine on the Egyptian market. Taking into account the situation in the Black Sea region. Egypt may cover its needs with EU wheat or look for other suppliers such as India or Australia.

Pakistan started to buy actively Ukrainian wheat since August 2020 (in 2020/21 MY, the Pakistani government allowed private companies to import wheat to stabilize domestic prices and accumulate stocks to grant food security amid the global pandemic of COVID-19). In 2020/21 MY, the share of Pakistan totaled 8% (1.4 mln tonnes) in the overall shipment from Ukraine. At the same times, Ukrainian wheat accounted for 39% of Pakistani import. Pakistan imported 1.5 mln tonnes of Ukrainian wheat in 2021/22 MY (+5% y/y), or 77% of the overall import potential of the country (1.9 mln tonnes according to the USDA). As Ukrainian ports remained blocked, Pakistan may turn to Indian, Australian or EU origin.

Supplies to Bangladesh have been declining from year to year. It was the 4th biggest importer in 2020/21 MY, and went down to 7th position in July-February 2021/22 MY.

Turkey appeared among TOP-3 importers of Ukrainian wheat in 2021/22 MY. However, it is temporary, as the country raised sharply wheat imports only due to significant reduction of the own production in 2021. Traditionally, Russia is the main source of wheat for Turkey (average 81% in the last three seasons). The share of Ukraine did not exceed 13%, except 2021/22 MY.

In 2022/23 MY, the sharp reduction of wheat production by 47% y/y to 17.1 mln tonnes may result in weak export at only 12.3 mln tonnes, down 34% y/y. Thus, the share of Ukrainian wheat will decline on the markets of the key importing countries, who will be forced to look for alternative sources.


According to the USDA, from 2008/09 МY Ukraine is one of TOP-5 main exporters of corn. In 2018/19 MY exports of grain reached record high, totaling nearly 30 mln tonnes, which is 17% of the total global crop export. In 2021/22 MY the production of corn reached new record which according to the SSSU totaled 42?! Mln tonnes (+39% y/y) and the export potential of Ukrainian grain was estimated in February at 30 mln tonnes. Due to blocked Ukrainian sea ports as a result of Russian aggression corn export forecast was declined to 20.8 mln tonnes (-13% compared to 2020/21 MY) and stocks forecasted at record high – 12.3 mln tonnes, up 6.1 times y/y.

The main importers of Ukrainian corn are traditionally China and the EU, in 2020/21 MY their share in total grain exports was 36% and 24% respectively.

From 2018/19 MY to 2020/21 MY the exports from Ukraine to China more than doubled – from 3.8 mln tonnes to 8.5 mln tonnes, at the same time, according to the USDA, the Chinese market’s needs for imported raw materials from the above mentioned period increased 5 times – from 4.5 mln tonnes to 29.5 mln tonnes, which led to a decrease in the share of Ukrainian corn in China’s total importers from 85% to 29%. In 5 months of the current season, Ukraine managed to export 5.5 mln tonnes of corn to China, up 17% y/y, which is 24% of the forecasted China’s imports (23 mln tonnes according to the USDA). Further exports of Ukrainian corn to this destination is currently unavailable due to blocked seaports caused by constant shelling of our territory. Thus, it is highly possible that Chinese market will see more American corn this season and possible purchases of the grain from the EU and Argentina.

The EU countries have covered an average of 60% of their import needs with Ukrainian corn over the past 3 seasons. Of this volume about 50% of the grain went to key buyers in Spain and the Netherlands. During the first 5 months of the 2021/22 MY, these countries managed to import 2.6 mln tonnes and 1.3 mln tonnes of corn from Ukraine, respectively, which is 82% and 5% higher than in the previous season. At the same time, the total volume of shipments of Ukrainian corn to the European Union from October to February of the current season amounted to 7.4 mln tonnes, exceeding the 2020/21 MY by 69%. Currently, EU countries remain the only available destination for grain exports from Ukraine.

Egypt also occupies an important place in the ranking of key importers of corn from Ukraine, but the volume of its purchases is gradually decreasing with each season. If according to the results of 2018/19 MY the share of Ukrainian grain in total imports of Egypt was 32%, in 2020/21 MY decreased to 24%. Egyptian corn imports are quite diversified, in addition to Ukrainian, the country buys significant amounts of Argentine, Brazilian and Romanian grain, so in the event of a war in Ukraine, their presence in this market may increase significantly.

As for the forecasts for 2022/23 MY, with the expected reduction in corn production relative to the current season's harvest by 56% to 18.5 mln tonnes, and due to record transitional crop residues at the end of 2021/22 MY at 12, 3 mln tonnes of its export potential could reach 19.5 mln tonnes, which is 6% lower than 2021/22 MY.

Export logistics during war

Currently, the largest export channel for agricultural products from Ukraine is border crossings with EU countries. Grain is shipped mainly through overland rail crossings on the border of Ukraine with Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary.

Thus, for the land export of grain cargo from Ukraine to the EU there are six railway border crossings: on the border with Poland - it's Izov - Khrubeshiv, Mostyska - Medica and Yagodyn - Dorogusk; with Romania - Vadul-Siret - Dornesti, with Slovakia - Chop - Cierna nad Tisou, with Hungary - Chop - Záhony. Their total capacity per day is 534 grain wagons.

It should be noted that, according to experts, the existing potential for transportation of goods through the western border crossings is used only by 55-60%, due to a number of factors such as: uneven use of border crossings by market participants, lack of rolling stock in foreign carriers, limited capacity of some sections, the need to build new logistics chains in neighboring countries, bureaucratic delays in customs, phytosanitary, veterinary clearance, etc.

However, according to railway statistics, in March-April this year, 921.6 thousand tons of corn, 7.0 thsd tonnes of wheat and 4.9 thsd tonnes of barley were loaded for export through land border crossings.

At the same time, according to other sources, exports of the main grains from Ukraine for these two months amounted to 2.2 mln tonnes worth $627.3 million, which is 67% lower than in March-April 2021 in physical terms and by 63% in cash (6.8 mln tonnes worth $1.7 billion). It should be noted that in March this volume also included cargoes that were physically in ports or ships in February, but customs declarations for which were included in the general statistics only in March.

Unfortunately, in the current conditions the load on the railway logistics of our country has increased considerably, and the capacity of railway border crossings is much lower than the port infrastructure, so the railway system of Ukraine and railways of neighboring countries need time to adapt to a sharp increase in Ukrainian cargo. In the current conditions, market participants together with the Ukrainian authorities continue to look for opportunities to redirect export supplies to the EU by alternative means, such as river transport by the Danube to Romania. The possibility of transporting grain to Ukraine by importers through Lithuanian and Latvian ports is also being considered, and a ship with 71 thsd tonnes of Ukrainian corn has already left the Romanian port of Constanta.

It should be noted that, according to preliminary estimates of experts, European ports are capable of handling about 1.5 mln tonnes of Ukrainian grain and about 250 thsd tonnes of oil per month. However, from the end of June the European countries will begin mass harvesting of new crops of grain and oilseeds, which in the future will significantly limit the possibility of Ukrainian supplies to foreign markets through EU ports. In addition, there are a number of technical difficulties for the development of alternative routes. For example, double change of carts on wagons on delivery to the Baltic ports, dimensional restrictions on movement within the EU, which do not allow the use of Ukrainian wagons in certain areas, the load of the EU railway infrastructure with their own cargo and others.

It should be noted that the European Commission has abolished tariffs and quotas on Ukrainian exports for a year, which will help increase supplies to the European market. Through the efforts of the representatives of the railways of Ukraine and European countries, plans to increase the capacity of border stations and optimize traffic through the EU are being actively developed and implemented. But in the near future the possibility to realize the residual export potential of the current season only through EU demand and supplies through EU infrastructure to third countries is unlikely. In addition, not all cereals are in significant demand in European countries, and Ukraine and the EU are competitors on the world market. Therefore, it is likely that in the near future the structure of trade, as well as the structure of production in the grain segment, will undergo significant changes.


Viltoria Rozhko