Australia repeats record year of grain exports

Peter McMeekin - Grain Brokers Australia, November 7, 2023

A sorghum bunker builds at GrainCorp’s Moura site in Central Qld earlier this month. Photo: Brad Foster

THE 2022-23 crop year in Australia concluded at the end of September, and the final pieces of the season’s record grain export program were revealed last Thursday when the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the nation’s September export data.

Concentrating on the four key commodities of wheat, barley, canola and sorghum, Australia’s total exports for the 12 months came in at a record 47.81 million tonnes (Mt), with barley the only one not setting a new seasonal export record. This is a massive 10.6 percent higher than the previous record of 43.22Mt, set just a year earlier. In fact, the past three seasons have each set new export benchmarks, a result of three consecutive years of phenomenal La Niña-assisted production in the “land down under”. It also demonstrates the extraordinary increase in Australia’s export capacity and logistics efficiency over those three seasons.

Western Australia was the biggest exporting state with 20.92Mt, or 43.8pc of the nation’s grain shipments. The second busiest was South Australia, with 8.48Mt, or 17.7pc of the total. These two states collectively accounted for 61.5pc of Australia’s export task despite neither being a producer, and therefore not an exporter, of sorghum. New South Wales came in third with 7.13Mt, 14.9pc of the total, just ahead of Victoria with 6.98Mt, 14.6pc of the export program. Queensland was in last place with 4.3Mt, 9pc of the task, with sorghum 48.4pc of that total, and the state accounting for 74.1pc of all sorghum exports.

The port of Fremantle in Western Australia took the gong as the nation’s busiest port, fobbing 8.95Mt of wheat, barley and canola for 18.73pc of the nation’s total shipments. The second busiest port was Albany, also in WA, with 3.84Mt (8.02pc of the total), followed by Port Adelaide in SA with 3.5Mt (7.31pc), Brisbane, Qld’s primary port, with 3.47Mt (7.25pc), Esperance in WA with 3.44Mt (7.21pc) and Port Kembla in NSW with 3.23Mt (6.76pc).

March was the biggest export month of the 2022-23 season, with 5.43Mt of the four key commodities shipped from Australia’s grain export facilities. This was followed by May with 4.85Mt, December with 4.68Mt, and February with 4.62Mt. The biggest wheat month was March with 3.76Mt, for barley it was February with 0.92Mt, for canola it was December with 0.88Mt, and for sorghum it was May with 0.44Mt.

China No. 1 on wheat

Wheat is Australia’s largest agricultural export commodity by volume and value, and in 2022-23 it made up 66.4pc of the total grain export program with a record 31.77Mt. This is 15.7pc higher than the previous season’s record of 27.45Mt. The big difference came in the pace of exports in the first half of the export year, where 16.52Mt was shipped last season against 12.98Mt over the same period in the 2021-22 season.

China was the principal buyer of Australian wheat in 2022-23 with 7.59Mt, 23.9pc of total wheat exports, departing Australian shores for discharge at numerous ports in the world’s biggest producer, consumer and importer of wheat. Indonesia was the second biggest buyer with 5.03Mt (15.83pc), followed by The Philippines with 3.08Mt (9.68pc), Vietnam with 2.85Mt (8.99pc) and South Korea with 2.7Mt (8.5pc).

Saudi No. 1 on barley

Australian barley exports in 2022-23 came in at 7.08Mt, 14.8pc of total exports, but down 11.8pc from 8.03Mt in 2021-22, despite the late-season boost from China after it dropped the import tariffs in early August. The decrease largely reflects the export margins available for barley over the past 12 months relative to both wheat and canola, which were competing for the same export elevation slots. Feed barley made up the bulk of the export program with 5.93Mt (83.73pc) compared to malting barley with 1.15Mt (16.27pc).

In the absence of Chinese demand for almost 11 months of the export season, Saudi Arabia retained its number one position with 1.83Mt or 25.82pc of total barley shipments. However, this was down significantly from the 3.18Mt they purchased in the previous season. Thailand was the second largest barley customer with 0.69Mt (9.16pc), followed by Vietnam with 0.61Mt (8.68pc). China surfaced with 0.43Mt (6.03pc) in just five weeks, with the first post-tariff shipment only departing Fremantle in the last week of August. Mexico has emerged as a key market for Australian malting barley in recent years, taking 0.39Mt (5.45pc) in 2022/23.

EU No. 1 on canola

In the 2020-21 season, Australia produced a then-record canola crop of 4.3Mt. Two consecutive record production seasons later, total canola exports in 2022-23 reached a record 6.16Mt and made up 12.9pc of the national export program. This is up 11.8pc from 5.51Mt shipped in the prior corresponding period. WA was the big mover, with exports increasing from 2.58Mt in 2021-22 to 3.42Mt last season, more than the nation’s total export program back in the 2020-21 season.

The European Union remains the number one destination for Australian canola exports with 3.2Mt, 52pc of total shipments, going to ports in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal. Outside of the EU, Japan was the nation’s biggest canola client, taking 0.89Mt (14.52pc), followed by Pakistan with 0.57Mt (9.26pc), Bangladesh with 0.24Mt (3.93pc) and Mexico with 0.23Mt (3.76pc).

China dominates sorghum demand

Sorghum enjoyed a bumper export program in the last seven months of the season following a huge harvest earlier this year. Total exports of 2.81Mt may only make up 5.9pc of the major grains export program, but that is up 25.9pc year on year from 2.23Mt in the prior corresponding period.

Sorghum demand is dominated by China, taking 2.43Mt, or 86.46pc of the Australian bulk and container export program in 2022-23. This is up from 1.89Mt in 2021-22 but is proportionally very similar. The only other destination of note in 2022-23 was Japan with 0.2Mt (7.14pc), down fractionally season on season. Kenya and Sudan were the only other bulk customers. Sorghum exports have a relatively large container component at around 11pc of the 2022-23 program, with Sydney the main loadport and China the dominant destination.

Slowing in Qld, NSW

The 2022-23 export record could easily have been much higher if not for a substantial slowdown in the pace of exports out of Qld and NSW ports in the final three months of the season. The talk of El Niño at planting time back in the autumn slowly played out, particularly in central and northern NSW and southern Qld. These regions generally feed Australia’s biggest domestic feedgrain demand region, the Darling Downs in southern Qld, as well as supplying a significant proportion of the east coast’s milling wheat demand, and the domestic market worked as it should to limit grain shipments by pushing values above export parity.


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