For the first time since the 1950s, Europe will become the world’s top wheat exporter, overtaking the US. The European Union will ship 27.5m tonnes of wheat, including durum, in 2014-15, the USDA said in its first forecasts for next season.
That would be a figure second only to the 30.0m tonnes that the EU - which as a bloc is the world's top wheat producer – is expected to export this season, ending next month.
And it would take the EU's current 28 nations (counted pro-rata before the bloc's creation) to first in the league of world wheat exporters for the first time on records going back to 1960s, during which the US has dominated top rank.
The EU's promotion reflects the extent of the damage to the US winter wheat crop from drought in the southern Plains belt which grows the hard wheat used in making bread, with production of the soft wheat used in making biscuits, and grown in the Midwest, hurt too by lower sowings and frost damage.
Last year's harvest was too small to prevent US hard red winter wheat stocks tumbling an estimated 50% to 193.2m bushels over 2013-14.
Meanwhile, the EU is expected to see a small rise in production in 2014-15, by 1.56m tonnes to 144.9m tonnes, the third biggest harvest on record, lifted by a recovery in production in the UK.
Indeed, while output from France and Germany, the top two producers, is expected to show a small decline this year – of 1.0% to 38.1m tonnes and 3.8% to 24.0m tonnes respectively – the third-ranked UK will see a 27% jump in its harvest to 15.2m tonnes.
The increase reflects the improved weather from last season, when autumn sowings were slashed by the second wettest year on record, which also left the UK with an unusually poor-quality crop in 2012.
Most major exporting wheat exporters will see reduced shipment volumes, a decline reflecting reduced production in Australia and Canada, as well as in the Ukraine, where the financial hiccups stemming from political crisis will curtail output.
For Ukraine, the USDA forecast that "despite the excellent current conditions, yield will drop from last year's level due to a likely reduction in the spring application of mineral fertilisers and a reduction in the use of herbicides and other agricultural chemicals".
Argentina - where wheat is broadly expected to improve in popularity, amid talk of some easing back by the government on export restrictions - will re-emerge as a major shipper, with volumes seen trebling to 6.5m tonnes.
Among import nations, Brazil and China, which suffered unusually poor harvests last year, are seen cutting their need for purchases.
Turkey's imports are forecast rising 38% to a record 5.5m tonnes, thanks to drought and a late frost blamed for cutting wheat output by 3.om tonnes from last year, to 15.0m tonnes.
Imports by Syria, which "is experiencing a continued drought along the western grains region, are also seen reaching a record high, of 2.0m tonnes. Egypt, the top importer, is seen buying in 10.8m tonnes, up 300,000 tonnes year on year.