In spite of uncertainties posed by the pandemic, FAO’s first forecasts for the 2020/21 season point to a comfortable cereal supply and demand situation. Early prospects point to global cereal production in 2020 surpassing the previous year’s record by 2.6 percent. Based on conditions of crops already in the ground, planting expectations for those still to be sown, and assuming normal weather for the remainder of the season, world cereal output is forecast at 2 780 million tonnes (including rice in milled equivalent), nearly 70 million tonnes higher than in 2019, setting a new record high. Maize would account for the bulk of the predicted increase, with an expected expansion of 64.5 million tonnes to a record level of 1 207 million tonnes, boosted by record harvests in the United States of America (USA), Canada and Ukraine, and near-record harvests in Brazil and Argentina. Similarly, rice production is seen reaching an all-time high of 508.7 million tonnes in 2020, exceeding the 2019 reduced level by 1.6 percent. More normal weather and attractive prices are anticipated to underpin rice output recoveries primarily in China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Pakistan, Thailand and the USA, as well as continued production growth in India. By contrast, global production of wheat in 2020 is forecast to decline from the previous year’s good level, largely on likely downturns in the European Union (EU), Ukraine and the USA more than offsetting expected production increases in the Russian Federation and Australia.

After stagnating in 2019/20, world cereal utilization in 2020/21 is tentatively forecast to expand by 1.6 percent (43 million tonnes) year-on-year to reach an all-time high of 2 732 million tonnes. The projected growth would mainly mirror a more robust expansion foreseen in feed use relative to 2019/20, although both food and industrial uses are also forecast to increase. Maize is predicted to account for the largest year-on-year anticipated growth in total cereal utilization, rising by almost 3 percent (33 million tonnes) to 1 169 million tonnes, on expectations of a partial recovery in industrial demand, especially for production of ethanol in the USA, and a faster growth in feed use, particularly in China. Underpinned by plentiful supplies, world rice utilization is forecast to expand by 1.6 percent in 2020/21 to a fresh peak of 510.0 million tonnes, with food use to account for much of this growth, increasing by 1.6 percent from 2019/20 to 420.0 million tonnes. On a per capita basis, this would result in a global food intake of 53.9 kg, up 0.6 percent year-on-year. By contrast, world utilization of wheat in 2020/21 is expected to fall slightly (0.4 percent) from the 2019/20 estimated level to around 754 million tonnes, mostly reflecting weaker demand prospects for the feed sector due to ample availabilities of coarse grains and a likely cut in industrial use, especially for biofuel production in the EU.

Based on FAO’s first forecasts for production in 2020 and consumption in 2020/21, world cereal inventories by the end of national marketing seasons in 2021 are forecast to reach a new record of 927 million tonnes, an increase of 4.5 percent (nearly 40 million tonnes) from their already high opening levels. The expected increase in cereal stocks would result in a slight rise in the global cereal stock-to-use ratio, from 32.5 percent in 2019/20 to 32.9 percent in 2020/21, indicating a generally comfortable supply situation when compared to the 21.2 percent low registered in 2007/08. Of the total cereal stocks, as much as 47 percent are expected to be held in China, where national stocks could increase for the second consecutive season and reach a new high of at least 438 million tonnes.

Global coarse grain stocks are forecast to increase the most, rising by nearly 10 percent (close to 41 million tonnes) to 465 million tonnes, with most of the anticipated growth corresponding to a larger build-up of maize inventories expected in the USA. The projected increase in global coarse grain inventories would push the stocks-to-use ratio of coarse grains to its highest level in over 20 years, at 30.5 percent. World wheat stocks are forecast at around 280 million tonnes, up 1.5 percent from their already high opening levels, but still below the 2017/18 record. While the bulk of the anticipated year-on-year expansion in wheat stocks is set to occur in China, ending stocks in major exporting countries are likely to remain close to their opening levels, except for the USA, where they could decline to a six-year low. Consequently, while the world wheat stocks-to-use ratio in 2020/21 may register only a small decline, the ratio of major wheat exporters’ closing stocks to their total disappearance will likely drop to an eight-year low. At 182.0 million tonnes, global rice stockpiles at the close of 2020/21 marketing years are forecast 0.8 percent below their opening level, while still remaining at their third highest level on record. Much of the stock drawdown is anticipated to be in China, where, however, stocks are still expected to remain large. Elsewhere in the world, rice inventories are seen expanding for the second successive season, led by expectations of continued build-ups in the major rice exporting countries. This would result in the global stocks-to-use ratio remaining at a still comfortable level of 35.3 percent in 2020/21, and only slightly down from the 36.0 percent estimate for 2019/20.

FAO’s first forecast for world cereal trade in 2020/21 stands at 433 million tonnes, up 2.2 percent (9.4 million tonnes) from 2019/20 and setting a new record, boosted by expected expansions in trade of all major cereals. World trade of coarse grains in 2020/21 (July/June) is projected at roughly 208 million tonnes, up around 2 percent (4 million tonnes) from 2019/20, reflecting expectations of larger shipments of all major coarse grains – maize, barley and sorghum. After a year of subdued growth in 2019/20, global maize trade is forecast to rise strongly in 2020/21 (July/June), reaching 170 million tonnes, up 1.2 percent (nearly 2 million tonnes) from 2019/20. The increase would be sustained by rising import demand expected for feed use, as abundant supplies continue to strengthen maize price competitiveness over wheat. World wheat trade (including wheat flour in wheat equivalent) in 2020/21 (July/June) is likely to reach a record level of 177.5 million tonnes, up 1.4 percent (2.4 million tonnes) from 2019/20. Stronger import demand anticipated by several countries in Asia and North Africa are also seen to contribute to the expansion. Although subject to much uncertainty at this early stage, global trade in rice in 2021 (January/December) is tentatively pegged at 47.6 million tonnes, up 6.2 percent (2.8 million tonnes) from 2020.