Sixth vessel booked, new-crop wheat imports tipped at 400,000t

Liz Wells, September 13, 2019

ANOTHER year of drought in Australia’s major high-protein wheat-growing areas could see 400,000 tonnes of wheat imported to cover local demands in the new-crop marketing year which starts next month, according to projections by Australian Crop Forecasters (ACF).

Canadian wheat loaded at the Port of Vancouver is expected to continue coming to Australia to help cover the drought deficit.

Kicking off the new-crop import program will be the sixth cargo of Canadian wheat to arrive at Port Kembla, this time on board the La Luna, which is due to berth next month.

It is covered by one of the two new import permits for Canadian bulk wheat issued this week by the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture.

“The new-season estimate is still very much a moving number,” ACF manager insights James Maxwell said.

“New-crop prospects are a weekly proposition at the moment, so production will definitely change, and with that, domestic feed availability and exports will be affected.”

ACF’s forecast imports figure goes a long way to filling the deficit between 839,143t, the 10-year average to 2018 of Australian Prime Hard (APH) production, and the 2019 tonnage which trade sources believe will be lucky to equal the 307,387t ACF estimates was grown last year.

“We’re pretty confident imports will still be required.

“The main APH-producing regions of northern NSW and southern Queensland are as bad as, if not worse off, than last year, and the grain being imported is a substitute for that very high-protein grain used for industrial purposes.

“At this stage, we believe there will be at least similar tonnes imported for the coming season, dependent upon how much APH is produced in Australia.”

The sole user of Canadian wheat is Manildra Group’s Shoalhaven Starches facility at Bomaderry, which since July has been rail-freighting tonnage discharged at nearby Port Kembla in sealed wagons to reduce biosecurity risks associated with imported grain.

Shoalhaven Starches, as well as NSW’s flour mills, are expected to compete for APH tonnage grown in the state.

Yields in most APH-producing areas will be limited to reflect the low-rainfall growing season and minimal subsoil moisture in many paddocks.

“A larger proportion than normal of wheat in northern NSW and southern Queensland is likely to be high protein due to the dry conditions, but with that comes shriveled lighter-weight grains, a heap more screenings, and unmillable materials that will lead to increased proportions of off grades.”

Pursehouse Rural head agronomist Matt Roseby is based in Gunnedah in north-west NSW, and said while the Liverpool Plains had been on track to produce a reasonable amount of APH, many crops were now being cut for hay.

“They were looking okay a month ago, but in the past week to 10 days, we’ve had daytime temperatures in the mid 30s, wind and frosts.

“A lot of wheat and barley and canola crops have been cut for hay, and very little will be harvested for grain.”

Hay on the Liverpool Plains is selling for around $400/t to feedlots and graziers, making a hay crop a better economic proposition for growers than harvesting a very low yielding wheat crop.

The Liverpool Plains produced more than 200,000t of APH in its most recent good year, 2016, when yields of 5-6t or more per hectare were common.

The outer north-west slopes and plains of NSW around Coonamble, Moree, Narrabri and Walgett has historically produced more than 400,000t of APH, but very few crops will be harvested in these districts this year.

Most were not sown due to a lack of planting rain, and many that were have been cut for hay because of their poor yield prospects, and hay prices of up to $600/t.

The Maranoa and Western Downs of southern Queensland will produce some APH, but the feedlot market, on top of poultry and pig demand, is likely to see it consumed locally.


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