Feedgrain Focus: Prices surge on export shorts, transport

Liz Wells March 10, 2022

Recent rain means many paddocks are too wet to take trucks carrying sorghum to depots for export. Photo: Philip Hayward, Warra

PRICES for barley, wheat and sorghum have lifted across the board in the past week by up to $25 per tonne as export shorts look to fill slots amid challenging logistics, particularly into Brisbane and Port Kembla.

The rally has seen domestic consumers ratchet back buying to a bare minimum.

In the north, a market for sorghum downgraded by recent rain appears to be developing, while in the south, consumers have seen a resurgence in interest in barley for export which has galvanising their commitment to SFW wheat in rations.

Parts of coastal New South Wales have been seriously impacted by flooding in the past week, and in terms of grain movement, Port Kembla is affected, with rail access cut and the loading of export vessels now at least one week behind schedule.

Today Mar 3
Barley Downs $330 $315
SFW wheat Downs $365 $340
Sorghum Downs $335 $310
Barley Melbourne $360 $340
ASW wheat Melbourne $392 $390
SFW wheat Melbourne $385 $380

Table 1: Indicative delivered prices in Australian dollars per tonne.

Sorghum harvest resumes

Harvest of sorghum in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales has resumed this week for many growers who have dodged their wettest paddocks, patches and roads to get moving on the bumper crop.

This follows patchy rain in the past week, and heavy falls for most in the week before.

Sources report while most grain being harvested is of high quality, some sprouting has occurred, and this off-spec grade is shaping up at $20-30/t below SOR1.

“Consumers are all waiting to see what Sorghum 2 is like, and samples are just starting to roll in,” one trader said.

The minimum testweight for top-grade sorghum is 71 kilograms per hectolitre, and pre rain, samples were coming in at a few kilograms above that to indicate the kind growing season.

Market feeling is that minor sprouting will enable downgraded samples to maintain weight.

“If it makes 71kg, you mind find the consumer is interested.”

“We’re not sure where it will price yet; it could be $20 or $25 under, or more.

“What we do know is that growers don’t want to hang on to it because they don’t have the storage.”

Now that Brisbane terminals have resumed operations following the recent flood, the flow of sorghum for bulk and containerised exports has resumed.

SFW wheat in northern markets has also rallied as growers and traders look to blend it with high-quality and higher-protein grades like Prime Hard and H2 to wriggle into specs for more expensive off grades like AUH9.

Barley into feedlots is said to be stronger on the bid than the offer side.

“Some out there are saying to feedlots ‘I’ve got it and you want it: who’s paying up?’

Barley shapes up in south

Prices for barley have jumped $20/t in the past week on the back of what looks like a run on export accumulation.

While barley has been struggling to get to the front of the queue on Victorian and NSW shipping stems, it appears to be finding renewed interest as exporters look to fill nearby demand from the Middle East and possibly Asia.

“Barley has definitely kicked up,” GeoCommodities broker Brad Knight said.

“What’s next? Is it barley’s turn?”

Mr Knight said grower engagement on barley and SFW wheat is mixed.

Much has been said about how far below export parity Australian grain is, a function of export terminals from Brisbane to Port Adelaide being so heavily booked until August.

A trader said the Russia-Ukraine conflict appears likely to curtail access to Black Sea ports post July, when its new crop will become available.

This means the “cliff face”, or drop in bids seen by Australian exporters once Northern Hemisphere new-crop hits the market, may be the reverse this year.

The cost of up-country freight as driven by rising diesel prices and tightness in the road-transport market is also being felt in the south.

Barley stored on-farm at sites close to domestic feedmills could well be starting to weigh in its favour.

“By and large, domestic markets have been using SFW, but the freight legs are longer, and with fuel at $2/l, everyone wants more for the freight, and getting access to trucks is difficult.”

“Barley will be an interesting one.

“All the bulk handlers in Victoria and southern NSW took in more canola than barley at harvest.

“That means the barley is on farm, but for the foreseeable future, better elevator margins are in canola and wheat.”

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