Grain lifts in Port of Melbourne export profile

Liz Wells, July 26, 2023

Port of Melbourne is Australia’s busiest container port. Photo: Port of Melbourne/Ric Wallis

INCREASED containerised and bulk grain exports are helping to lift shipment figures out of the Port of Melbourne, Australia’s largest container port.

Port of Melbourne head of business development Leatrice Treharne said tonnage figures for the year to June 30 indicate FY23 exports of wheat through the port were up 15 percent on FY22, while malt has risen 37pc.

“Grain exports are showing great numbers for us,” Ms Treharne said.

“Grains are our most important export commodity through the port, and 30pc of our total exports in FY23.”

Boosting the port’s export capacity is the LDC-owned Emerald Grain Melbourne Port Terminal, which regularly loads bulk cargoes of 50,000t or more.

Leatrice Treharne.

“Wheat is our single largest grain export, and 21pc of our total by tonnes in FY23.”

Port of Melbourne figures show barley volume has dropped 42pc year on year FY23, and while barley shipments to China stopped following its introduction of tariffs on Australian barley in 2020, Ms Treharne said the volume of wheat shipped to China has continued to show strong growth.

“We have seen strong growth for China with a 22pc combined annual growth rate over the past six years for wheat volumes into China.”

Vietnam was the destination for 14pc of Port of Melbourne’s total grain exports in FY22, ahead of China with 12pc.

“We’ve seen really good growth for Vietnam, and along with China, the South-east Asian market  continues to be an important growth market for our grain exports .”

Bulk grain exports ex the Port of Melbourne have boomed on the return to good grain-growing seasons, which have allowed Victorian and southern NSW grain to be sent overseas, instead of north to satisfy requirements in drought-affected eastern Australia from 2017 to 2020.

2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22
Wheat 16,378 37,806 806,075 1,275,240
Barley 55,172 80,653 271,065 239,947
Canola 0 0 0 51,018
Scrap metal 0 0 0 82,212
TOTAL 71,550 118,459 1,077,140 1,648,417

Table 1: Port of Melbourne dry bulk export data in tonnes for financial years ending June 30. Source: Port of Melbourne

Total revenue tonnes handled by the Port of Melbourne on all imports and exports, including Bass Strait trade, totalled 107.6 million tonnes in FY22, up from 97.1Mt in FY2019.

While recent seasons have given exporters plenty of volume to work with in terms of grain and canola, Ms Treharne said hay was one commodity that has been adversely affected by rain late in the growing season.

Trade sources have reported a sharp drop in pulses exported in containers via Melbourne and all other Australian ports, largely due to extremely expensive rates, shipping delays and scarce services to South Asia caused initially by COVID disruptions.

These same sources say an upswing in containerised pulse exports can be expected in the current financial year now that shipping costs to South Asia has dropped and services are far more frequent and reliable.

Port of Melbourne’s drawing arc reaches into the Riverina in southern New South Wales, with regular rail services bringing both containers and bulk grain to the port.

“We move quite a lot of commodities from southern NSW by rail…and we have a lot of grain come in by road from the Wimmera.”

Increased capacity already planned

Ms Treharne said Port of Melbourne was conscious of its position as Australia’s largest general and container port, and its Port Capacity Enhancement Program was already looking ahead to see when its next tranch of container capacity was needed.

“As part of our stewardship under our 50-year lease, the Port of Melbourne is required to ensure that port capacity can meet the future demands of Victoria’s growing economy.

“The Port Capacity Enhancement Program will service those needs and involves developing a fourth international container terminal and securing the long-term future for the Tasmanian trades.”

Port of Melbourne is a landlord port, and Ms Treharne said planning was under way to cater for the decades to come.

“This is a large-scale infrastructure project and one that requires extensive planning to ensure it is delivered at the right time for Victoria.

“We’re a CBD port and we have a lot of different stakeholders including state government, local councils, port tenants and importers and exporters”.

Port of Melbourne is welcoming submissions on technical forecast reports, including Containership Fleet Analysis, and Trade and Port Capacity Forecasts, though to August 2023.

This four-week formal consultation period builds on previous engagement since September 2022 and will inform a future Cost Benefit Analysis and further engagement regarding the Port Capacity Enhancement Program.

“I think COVID and our massive increase in volumes showed how important we are in supply chains and the Port Capacity Enhancement Program will ensure we can continue to meet these needs in the future.”


Croker Grain at Marrar in the NSW Riverina loads containers for export. Photo: Port of Melbourne


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


Get Grain Central's news headlines emailed to you -