Following the Black Sea wheat market the past few years has felt a little like riding a roller coaster.

Large swings in wheat production in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have led to inconsistent export availability, sending some customers for a loop.

For all three Black Sea countries — Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan — USDA expects total wheat production to reach 88.0 million metric tons (MMT) in 2013/14, which is just 3 percent above the five-year average.

However, the proximity of this projection to the five-year average doesn’t provide the whole story. In the past four years, Black Sea production has alternated between reductions of 33 percent and increases of 35 percent or more. If realized, 88.0 MMT in the current marketing year would be a 39 percent increase from 2012/13.

To further complicate the effect of these large production swings on the world market, in years with lower production, the Black Sea countries often implement or threaten export limitations in order to secure the domestic supply. The threat of a supply restriction often distorts the market as much as an actual export ban or prohibitively high tariff.

Most recently, in October 2012, the agriculture minister announced that Ukrainian wheat exports would be capped at 4.0 MMT.

The next month, under intense international pressure, he modified the policy to allow shipment of the 5.5 MMT already committed.

In the following months, the government continued adjusting the maximum-allowed export number. In doing so, exporters rushed to make sales early, potentially distorting the world market. USDA estimates Ukraine’s total 2012/13 wheat exports reached 7.0 MMT, the number predicted prior to the ban.

In August 2010, Russia implemented a 10-month export ban due to a small harvest and tight domestic supplies. Total exports for marketing year 2010/11 plunged 79 percent to 3.98 MMT, the lowest since 2003/04, one of the first years Russia started to become a major export competitor. Sales soared the next year to a record 21.6 MMT, only to fall 49 percent again in 2012/13 to 11.1 MMT.