By Hashem Kalantari
Says it won't buy US wheat 'directly', prefers Central Asia, Australia, Argentina.
Iran needs to import 5-6 million tonnes of wheat in the 2008-09 year but none of it will be bought directly from the United States, official news agency IRNA quoted an Agriculture Ministry official as saying."The country will not be purchasing even 1 kg of wheat directly from the United States," ministry spokesman Mohammad-Hossein Ansarifard said.
Iranian officials and media in recent months have given varying figures of the country's wheat import needs for the year to Mar. 20, 2009.
Traders in Chicago said in August that Iran had booked more than 1 million tonnes in its first purchases from the United States in 26 years.
Another government official had said previously that Iran had not purchased the grain "directly" from its arch foe, but stopped short of an outright denial that it had bought US wheat.
Iran stopped buying US wheat after the Iranian revolution in 1979 which ousted the pro-US government. Iran has said it became self-sufficient in wheat in 2004.
Cold winter weather followed by drought has hit agricultural production in Iran, a country of 70 million people and the fourth-largest oil exporter.
Ansarifard said there was no exact figure for the amount of wheat Iran needed to import in 2008/9.
However, he said, "The country will have to purchase between 5 and 6 million tonnes of wheat from abroad."
Iran prefers to buy wheat from Central Asian countries, Australia and Argentina, the ministry spokesman said.
An Iranian newspaper report in July quoted a senior government official as saying Iran had already imported 5 million tonnes of wheat.
The Commerce Ministry had said in July 2007, Iran would export 1 million tonnes of wheat to neighbouring Iraq by the end of 2007/8 and other officials later confirmed the exports had started.
But in March, government officials said dry weather had damaged crops and this was expected to hurt agricultural output. (Reuters)