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Ukraine Shift on Sunflower-Seed Exports Calms Cooking-Oil Market Rocked by War



07 Mar 2023

Ukraine Shift on Sunflower-Seed Exports Calms Cooking-Oil Market Rocked by War

Ukraine Shift on Sunflower-Seed Exports Calms Cooking-Oil Market Rocked by War

Much of Ukraine’s sunflower-seed oil exports remain curtailed by the war, but farmers are sending out the raw seeds instead, stabilizing the global market for cooking oil.

In January, Ukraine exported 347,000 tons of sunflower-seed oil, down sharply from the 612,000 tons exported in January 2022 before the war, according to data from Black Sea agricultural consulting firm SovEcon. A drop in exports from Ukraine, the world’s second-largest producer after Russia, sent prices for sunflower-seed oil and other cooking oils soaring in the early days of the Russian invasion as buyers scrambled for alternatives.

In recent months, Ukrainian farmers have eschewed crushing seeds at home to make the oil. Instead, they are sending huge volumes of uncrushed seeds to foreign buyers, who do the processing themselves. Seed-crushing and power infrastructure in Ukraine have been damaged by the war, and ports dedicated to sunflower-seed oil exports are still essentially closed.

Ukraine exported 190,000 tons of seeds in January, according to SovEcon. That compares with 4,000 tons in January 2022, the month before the invasion, and 12,000 tons in January 2021.

The U.S. Agriculture Department expects global sunflower-seed exports to hit 2.65 million tons in the 2022-23 agricultural season, which runs through August, up from 1.62 million tons last year. Ukraine shipped 191,000 tons in 2020-21, before the war.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has fundamentally rewritten the trade flows around the country’s iconic sunflower market,” said Anna Platonova, oilseed-price analyst at U.K. price-reporting agency Fastmarkets.

Once cleaned, sunflower seeds are ground and pressed through a set of rollers or mills to extract oil. The oil is refined with heating and chemical additives to remove impurities before being packed and sold.

Before the war, much of that process was done inside Ukraine. Now, the task is being outsourced to such an extent that it has stabilized a global cooking-oil market that went haywire in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Key exporting ports were bombed or threatened by Russian forces, while Moscow blockaded most agricultural shipments. Prices of other cooking oils, such as palm oil and canola oil, all rose sharply amid a shortage of Ukrainian-supplied sunflower-seed oil. 

The Seed Crushers and Oil Processors Association, a U.K. trade body, says the greater supply of seeds now making it out of Ukraine by both sea and land routes has allowed European seed crushers to help make up for the lost supply of oil coming out of Ukraine, pushing prices lower.

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