THE US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it downgraded its forecast for Philippine rice imports amid a rise in firecast milled rice production, which it said is sufficient to partly offset growing demand.

In its Grain and Feed Annual report published on Friday, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) said that its forecast for rice imports for the marketing year (MY) 2024-2025 is flat at 4 million metric tons (MT) as “domestic production covers the slight increase in demand.” Early this month, the USDA made an import forecast of 4.1 million MT, citing expectations of a “smaller crop.” The marketing year starts in July and ends in June of the following year.

“FAS is forecasting MY 2024/2025 imports at the same level as MY 2023/24 as the weakened El Niño forecast will support improved growing conditions for the wet season rice crop resulting in stable import demand,” the report said.

The Philippines is expected to produce 12.125 million MT of milled rice in MY 2024/2025 with the expected weakening of El Niño by April or May, continued government funding, and increased use of fertilizer and hybrid seed.

This is higher than the adjusted 12 million metric tons forecast for MY 2023/2024 which had been dowgraded from 12.3 million due to the effects of El Niño.

FAS noted that the Philippine Department of Agriculture’s Masagana Rice Program targeted at 2.3 million farmers is expected to disburse P30.8 billion in aid, while fertilizer prices are stabilizings, except for ammonia.

It added that rice consumption is expected to increase for MY 2024/2025 in line with population growth. Total consumption and residual amounts are expected to increase to 16.48 million MT from 16.05 million MT in MY 2023/2024.

“Global wheat prices have stabilized, but there was no measurable shift from rice to bread over the past year as both staples experienced inflation,” FAS said.

“As of the time of publication, the dry season harvest was having a slight downward effect on retail rice prices. Thus far, rice consumption has proven durable despite inflation,” it added.

Meanwhile, the FAS forecasts flat corn production growth amid continued subsidies  to help maintain yields even though the crop was not being significantly affected by El Niño.

“This is due in part to the slightly later growing season and the varying effects of El Niño on different growing regions,” the FAS said.

However, imports of corn are projected to be higher for MY 2024/2025 as its production lags the expansion of the livestock and poultry sectors.

FAS said that the extension of the lower corn tariff rates until the end of 2024 will help preserve many global sourcing options for importers. — Justine Irish D. Tabile