We know that the Black Sea is producing a lot more wheat, but what’s going on with flax, especially in Kazakhstan?
Since the Black-Sea region is one of the world’s largest producers of flax and one of Canada’s main competitors on the flax exports, we wanted to take a look at what’s going on there.
Two months ago, in January, we looked at flax acres in major-producing countries and what we might expect going forward.
Then, we also dug into StatsCan’s first estimates of 2018/19 flax acres and production in early February. More specifically, with demand relatively set and not expected to spike because of decent competition from the Black Sea, flax prices would stay where they’re currently at.
Thus, we move our attention to figuring out what the major competitors abroad should be pumping out this coming 2018/19 crop year.
Flax production in major Black-Sea producing countries like Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine, can easily influence the price points that we’re selling our flax here in North America.
While Ukraine is a decently-sized producer, we’ve left them out of this analysis mainly because it’s not gigantic, but also b/c we haven’t seen in production estimates out yet! More specifically, Ukraine harvests about 130,000 acres of flax every year, that yields on average of about 60,000 tonnes.
2016/17 was the anomaly in Ukraine though as they had a bumper crop, taking off 90,000 tonnes of flax. However, when comparing this to Canada’s 500,000-plus metric tonne harvests, it’s small potatoes!
It is worth noting though that Ukraine has a strong domestic processing sector that is able to crush flax and transform it into oil, hence adding value.
Getting serious though, what kind of acreage could we be looking at in both in Russia and Kazakhstan?
What we found was that flax acres in both Russia and Kazakhstan ranged anywhere from 900,000 to 1.8 million acres as shown on the chart below. We also see that flax acres in both countries tracked each one another as acreage expanded or contracted. The reasons for these movements was weather and market conditions for those years.
Unlike the sideways-moving flax acres, Russia’s and Kazakhstan’s flax production have been trending upwards (also shown on the chart).
Kazakhstan’s production edged higher from roughly 200,000 tonnes in 2012/13 to 550,000 tonnes in 2016/17.
Similarly, Russia’s flax production expanded from 350,000 tonnes in 2012/13 to 700,000 tonnes 2016/17. We have to point that Russia’s flax production has always been stronger than Kazakhstan’s harvest.
Better than expected average yields in Russia pegged at roughly 17 bushels per acre – is the main reason for this increase in some years.
The 2017/18 crop year was different though as Russian and Kazakhstan flax acres and production started to diverge.
As the chart shows, Russia flax acres shrank due to weather issues that occurred in the spring of 2017. Combined with drought during the subsequent summer and heavy rains during flax harvest last fall, this pushed yields lower.
More specifically, Russian acreage shrank by 20% to 1.4 million acres while production dropped by 35% year-over-year to 450,000 tonnes.
Unlike Russia, Kazakhstan’s flax acreage reached a record high in 2018/19, surpassing 2 million acres. Climbing nearly 35% year-over-year, flax acres in the former Soviet Union country reached 2.15 million acres.
Unsurprisingly, Kazakhstan harvested a bumper crop of 700,000 tonnes in 2017/18, up roughly 20% from the year before
What’s the main thing to understand here?
Kazakhstan not only took Canada’s place as the world leader in flax production, but this country emerged as an important player on the export market.
On one hand, Mother Nature lent Kazakh flax producers a hand since they harvested a bumper crop.
On the other hand, an ambitious Kazakh government program helped diversify their farmers’ crop rotation, meaning more support for expanding flax acres. Concretely, the government aimed to reduce the share of wheat seeded acres from the roughly 64% to 46%, replacing it with other crops fodder, fodder, legumes, and oilseeds, including flax.
We’ve also seen strong government efforts to diversify Kazakhstan’s flax export markets away from the European Union and more into China. Recently, Kazakhstan and China signed agreements on protocols for the trade of agricultural goods, including flax.
From a price point, Kazakhstan’s flax is priced more competitively for export due to lower production cost but also due to this country’s proximity to the EU and Chinese markets.
For example, Kazakhstan’s flax producer prices are pegged 88,000 Kazakh tenge (the local currency).
This literally translates to a price of about $6.60 USD or $8.80 CAD per bushel!
For comparison, the average price for flax in Saskatchewan, where roughly 80% of Canadian flax is grown, hovered around $9.40 USD or $11.80 CAD per bushel during the same month.
As shown in the chart below, Kazakh supplies are much more price competitive than Canadian options.
To sum up, clearly the outlook for Kazakhstan’s flax market is bullish and something we’ll have to keep tabs on going forward.