By Joanna Newman

THE US wheat market, which enjoyed a healthy rebound in early March, has stabilised over the past week in the absence of fresh news to drive prices.

Unlike maize or soya beans which posted strong gains this week, the Chicago May futures contract was little changed from a week ago when it closed on Wednesday (24 March) at 269.75¢/bushel.

The North American winter wheat harvest is now mostly assured as the risk of last-minute weather damage is diminishing by the day.

Farmers have enjoyed favourable crop conditions in recent weeks and the last few days saw timely rains in Kansas and Colorado.

In the short term, all eyes will be on the weather and on official estimates of spring planting intentions, to be announced later this month.

The imminent harvest will add to already high stock levels of 722 million bushels.

Inventories are expected to grow to 1 billion bushels by the end of the 1999 season. With US prices at a premium to international competitors, analysts warn that exporters will have trouble achieving sufficient shipments to shift excess wheat.

In the week ended 18 March, only 12.8 million bushels of wheat were inspected for export, below expectations of up to 15 million bushels.

Producers are hoping that domestic wheat demand will pick up, especially for the livestock sector.

There are suggestions that due to poor market values, an increased amount of winter wheat fields in the southern United States will be grazed by cattle this spring, instead of harvested for grain.

Higher maize prices will also help make wheat more attractive as an alternative feed-grain for cattle in feedlots.

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