TWO remarkable things have happened to the Australian barley market in recent weeks: domestic demand has lifted barley prices at-or-above parity with wheat, and new-crop barley bids in export locations have reverted to export parity.
The firming in current-crop barley prices has been brought about by renewed, possibly lagged, demand for Western Australian barley for eastern states livestock feed triggered by a chain of events which started in the export market.
Before the China anti-dumping dolour ripped through barley prices in the early part of the 2018 harvest, eastern feeders would have expected wheat to be the basis of their ration.
But early 2019 offers ex WA ports fell to the point where a number of feedlots and stockfeed millers, over time, recalculated least-cost rations and switched their grain buying out of wheat and into barley.
Companies including GrainCorp which had been pushing shiploads of WA boat wheat through the west-to-east supply chain had been left long wheat, a problem inelastic demand from the poultry industry in particular is expected to solve as it chews through stocks in coming weeks.
Feedlots in Queensland and New South Wales appear to be the ones most enthused by barley’s attractive pricing.
While it appeared in February that feedlots would be sticking with wheat as their white grain until new-crop became available, barley for their rations is now being priced out as far as September. Those who have made the switch appear to want to keep running barley this season.
The May 7 Lachstock Consulting line-ups report shows that of the 11 vessels which have loaded from WA grain for eastern Australia since early April, nine had, or would, carry barley compared with only two for wheat.
Viterra’s latest Monthly Receivals Report pointed to South Australian barley coming out of storage and going into domestic markets alone.
“High volumes of outturns via road, rail and ship into the South Australian and east-coast domestic markets are ongoing to meet demand,” the report said.
It didn’t mention barley with reference to the loading of vessels bound for international markets.
“During April, wheat, canola and peas were loaded on to ships at our Port Lincoln, Port Giles and Outer Harbor sites.”
ASX grain futures nearby month settlements overnight for eastern Australian wheat contract WM July 19 was $333.50/t and barley contract UB July 19 was $350/t a notional, and unusual, barley premium over wheat. In the new crop January ASX grain contracts, wheat settlement price was $300/t and barley $255.50/t.
Barley broker Allied Grain manager Angus Wettenhall said while east coast barley values during the drought had risen through import parity, that premium was beginning to evaporate as markets weighed up the numbers for new crop.
“Delivered Melbourne/Geelong nearby barley has been trading around $350/t and new crop January at $275/t.”
Markets are in an illiquid period just now while developments are unfolding in northern hemisphere crops, Australian weather and global trade policies.
Nominal track barley price in Western Australia current crop was quoted $270-275/t, and new crop WA track around $240-245/t.
The relative attractiveness of barley compared to wheat had led, with a lag for chewing through existing contracts and arranging fresh logistics, to the feedlot consumer reformulating rations to switch out of wheat and into barley.
For a perspective on how the customer might view the value of barley relative to wheat, Grain Central spoke to Integrated Animal Production nutritionist Rob Lawrence who said barley discounts had led, on the basis of cost per unit energy it delivered, to it becoming more attractive for some beef feedlot rations compared to wheat.
The trigger for actually changing rations and keeping them in place for the months ahead depends on logistics, costs and some risk factors; these factors have relevance for planning the transition later this year to supply of new crop cereals.
“If you assume the cost of processing wheat and barley is similar, then you’d probably be looking for approximately 15 per cent differential,” Dr Lawrence said.
Whether steam flaking or dry rolling — steam flaking delivers around 10pc improved energy from barley — following a raw grain purchase to a finished ration, the wheat and barley value differential will be similar through both processes.
This season has been particularly difficult to plan. People saw contracts not delivered in commodities like cottonseed and hulls and became more cautious about making forward purchasing decisions and took additional care with choice of counter-parties to reduce risk.
“You couldn’t guarantee delivery of anything until you actually had it on hand.
“Having said that it’s the roughage that’s still causing the biggest hassle. It helps if you can get the grain and the cottonseed, but roughage has been a nightmare.”
An upbeat USDA report which came out last Friday gave some insight into global dynamics for barley.
On the positive side of the ledger for barley prices it predicted by several importing countries, partly arising from water shortages reducing their own capacity to grow forage. Imported barley could replace forage in livestock feeding rations in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Morocco. A trade source said widespread rains in Saudi Arabia last November had grown a lot of grass which drove a temporary slowdown in the January to April import demand.
The USDA report forecast China’s barley imports would rise 500,000t to 7.0 million tonnes (Mt) in 2019/20, Saudi Arabia up 900,000t to 8.5Mt, Morocco up 900,000t to 1.2Mt. It forecast corn consumption outpacing production for the third year in a row, supported by feed demand for poultry sectors throughout the world.
USDA forecast global supply of barley in 2019/20 rising to its highest level since 2008/09, because most exporters’ production would return to more historical levels, notably Canada would produce its biggest crop in six years.