The Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the country’s September international trade data last week, completing the national grain export picture for the 2020-21 marketing year which concluded on September 30. Featuring in the 2020-21 grain export program were the robust sales in the final three months of the marketing year, thanks to production issues in Russia, Canada and the United States and quality issues in the European Union.
Transition illuminates 2020 record
Australia’s flush season across the country in 2021 has been capped off by good spring rainfall in most regions. This has pushed the 2021 harvest back in many districts, especially in the eastern states, and means that old-crop grain will continue to dominate export shipments of wheat, and to a lesser degree barley, until December.
… old-crop grain will continue to dominate export shipments of wheat, and to a lesser degree barley, until December
There was almost 1.2 million tonnes (Mt) of wheat on the export stem for October and almost 1.4Mt on the stem for November, most of which will be 2020-21 season grain. That will push 2020-21 season wheat exports past the 26Mt mark, a record for a single production season. Additionally, if domestic consumption is pegged at 9Mt, and if the national carry-out conservatively were to double from 1.3Mt in 2019-20 to 2.6Mt in 2020-21, then national wheat production last season would have to be north of 36Mt, much higher than the official ABARES number of 33.337Mt.
The barley story is similar. Exports in the year to September 30 2021 totalled 7.921Mt, and there was 340,000t on the October stem. The November stem has 140,000t out of New South Wales and Victoria, which will be old-crop grain, but the bookings of 220,000t and 380,000t out of South Australian and Western Australian respectively will largely be new-crop grain. That takes last season’s barley exports to 8.4Mt. Pegging domestic consumption at 5.5Mt and carry-out at just 1.2Mt prints a production number of 14.1Mt against ABARES at 13.093Mt.
Monthly exports consistently top 3.5Mt
Exports of wheat, barley, sorghum and canola totalled 36.336Mt for the 12 months. This was quite an impressive result, considering the Australia pipeline was empty leading into the 2020 harvest after a string of poor seasons in the eastern states. The low carry-in meant the export program didn’t ramp up until December 2020. October 2020 shipments were low at 542,000t and November shipments totalled 1.063Mt.
March 2021 was the only month that exceeded 4Mt exports, at 4.053Mt for wheat, barley, sorghum and canola combined. May was just under, at 3.989Mt, and every month from December 2020 to June 2021 topped 3.5Mt for the four commodities. The busiest port was Fremantle/Kwinana, with 5.527Mt of wheat, barley and canola departing in bulk and containers across the season. Port Adelaide and Newcastle exported 3.383Mt and 3.28Mt, respectively, and Port Kembla was only just behind on 3.202Mt.
WA gets wheat gong
The gong for the biggest wheat export state went to WA at 8.603Mt for the 12-month period. NSW filled second spot with 5.677Mt, and South Australia held off a fast-finishing Victoria to take the minor placing with 4.132Mt.
September 2021 was the last month of the marketing year, and saw a disappointingly low 1.309Mt wheat shipped which nonetheless took marketing-year exports in bulk and containers to 23.77Mt, second only to the 2011-12 season when 24.66MMt was shipped to overseas customers. Durum exports totalled 406,000t, 1.7pc of total wheat exports. Container business made up 9pc of total international sales, with bulk sales accounting for 91pc across the season.
Four countries accounted for 49.6pc or 11.79Mt of total Australian wheat exports in 2020-21. Indonesia was the most popular destination, buying 4.704Mt over the marketing year. In a bit of a surprise, Vietnam was the second biggest destination at 2.95Mt, China was third with 2.182Mt, and The Philippines rounded off the top four with 1.953Mt.
Feed barley kicker
ABS posted a September 2021 barley export number of 548,000t, taking total barley exports in the 2020-21 season to 7.92Mt. Barley exports were quick out of the blocks after last year’s harvest, with December 2020 the biggest month of the whole season at 977,000t. March and February 2021 were the next best at 964,000t and 928,000t respectively. Saudi Arabia was the dominant destination accounting for 2.858Mt or 36.1pc of total barley exports. Japan touched out Thailand for second place with 1.06Mt over 1.059Mt.
WA shipped 3.569Mt over the year, or 45pc of the total barley program. SA Australia was next at 2.009Mt or 25.4pc of barley shipments in both containers and bulk. Victoria shipped 1.576Mt of barley. Malting barley exports made up a paltry 513,000t, or 6.5pc, of the total barley export number, well down on the heady numbers when China dominated the malting barley playing field.
The emergence of Mexico as Australia’s single biggest malting barley customer in 2020-21 was one bright light for the industry. Mexican imports totalled 141,000t or 27.5pc of total malting barley exports for the season. The first shipment of 35,000t departed the Port of Albany in WA in January. This was followed by three more in April, July and August, all from WA ports.
South America also surfaced as a malting barley destination in 2020-21, despite competition from Argentina. The west coast nation of Peru was Australia’s second-biggest malting barley client at 89,000t, and its northern neighbour Ecuador imported 25,000t. The two countries shared three single-port loaders out of Western Australia across the season, with 58,000t departing in May followed by 30,000t in August and 26,000t in September.
Australia exported 3.419Mt of canola in 2020-21, the third highest on record after exports of 3.598Mt in the 2016-17 season and 3.488Mt in the 2012-13 season. WA dominated the export stem throughout the season, shipping 1.491Mt, or 43.6pc of the nation’s exports. Victoria was the second-biggest exporter with 903,000t or 26.4pc of exports.
EU-27 plus UK completely overshadowed all other demand points, accounting for 75.5pc of Australia’s canola exports. Germany was the largest discharge destination with 929,000t, followed by Belgium on 765,000t and France on 402,000t across the marketing year.
Sorghum exports for the 2020-21 marketing year came to 1.226Mt, although the data continues to show a 38,000t bulk shipment out of Port Giles in January, which I suspect was actually wheat: someone got the codes wrong somewhere. The busiest month was September 2021, with exports of 253,000t followed by July with 216,000t. China continues to be the most important customer taking 79.6pc of total exports, or 976,000t. The East African nation of Kenya took second spot with 98,000t, and Japan was third with 96,000t.