By Peter McMeekin
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. A feature of 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.
Exports of wheat, barley, sorghum and canola totalled 36.336 million metric tonnes for the 12-month period. 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, with October shipments totalling 0.542MMT and November shipments totalling 1.063MMT.
At 4.053MMT, March was the only month that topped the 4MMT barrier for exports of wheat, barley, sorghum and canola combined. May was just under at 3.989MMT, and every month from December 2020 to June 2021 topped 3.5MMT for the four commodities. The busiest port was Fremantle/Kwinana, with 5.527MMT of wheat, barley and canola departing in bulk and containers across the season. Port Adelaide and Newcastle filled the other podium spots with exports of 3.383MMT and 3.28MMT, respectively, and Port Kembla was only just behind on 3.202MMT.
On the wheat front, September exports came in at a disappointing 1.309MMT. That took marketing year exports in bulk and containers to 23.77MMT, second only to the 2011/12 season when 24.66MMt was shipped to overseas customers. Durum wheat exports total 406,000 metric tonne, just 1.7 per cent of total wheat exports. Container business made up 9 per cent of total international sales, with bulk sales accounting for 91 per cent across the season.
The gong for the biggest wheat export state went to Western Australia at 8.603MMT for the 12-month period. New South Wales filled second spot with 5.677MMT, and South Australia held off a fast-finishing Victoria to take the minor placing with 4.132MMT.
Four countries accounted for 49.6 per cent or 11.79MMT of total Australian wheat exports in 2020/21. Indonesia was the most popular destination, buying 4.704MMT over the marketing year. In a bit of a surprise, Vietnam was the second biggest destination at 2.95MMT, China was third with 2.182MMT, and the Philippines rounded off the top four with 1.953MMT.
ABS posted a September barley export number of 548,000MT, taking total barley exports in the 2020/21 season to 7.92MMT. Barley exports were quick out of the blocks after last year's harvest, with December the biggest month of the whole season at 977,000MT. March and February were the next best at 964,000MT and 928,000MT, respectively. Saudi Arabia was the dominant destination accounting for 2.858MMT or 36.1 per cent of total barley exports. Japan touched out Thailand for second place with 1.06MMT and 1.059MMT, respectively.
Western Australia shipped 3.569MMT over the year or 45 per cent of the total barley program. South Australia was next best at 2.009MMT or 25.4 per cent of barley shipments in both containers and bulk. Victoria shipped 1.576MMT of barley. Malting barley exports made up a paltry 513,000MT, or 6.5 per cent 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 141,000MT or 27.5 per cent of total malting barley exports for the season. The first shipment of 35,000MT departed the port of Albany in Western Australia in January. This was followed by three more in April, July and August, all from Western Australian 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 89,000MT, and their northern neighbour Ecuador imported 25,000MT. The two countries shared three single port loaders out of Western Australia across the season, with 58,000MT departing in May followed by 30,000MT in August and 26,000MT in September.
Australia exported 3.419MMT of Canola in 2020/21, the third-highest on record after exports of 3.598MMT in the 2016/17 season and 3.488MMT in the 2012/13 season. Western Australia dominated the export stem throughout the season, shipping 1.491MMT, or 43.6 per cent of the nation’s exports. Victoria was the second biggest exporter with 903,000MT or 26.4 per cent of exports.
European Union nations (including the United Kingdom) completely overshadowed all other demand points accounting for 75.5 per cent of Australia’s canola exports. Germany was the largest discharge destination with 929,000MT, followed by Belgium on 765,000MT and France on 402,000MT across the marketing year.
Sorghum exports for the 2020/21 marketing year came to 1.226MMT, although the data continues to show a 38,000MT bulk shipment out of Port Giles in January, which I suspect was actually wheat: somebody got the codes wrong somewhere. The busiest month was September, with exports of 253,000MT followed by July with 216,000MT.
China continues to be the most important customer taking 79.6 per cent of total exports, or 976,000MT. The East African nation of Kenya took second spot with 98,000MT, and Japan was third with 96,000MT.
The 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.
There was almost 1.2MMT of wheat on the export stem for October and almost 1.4MMT on the stem for November, most of which will be 2020/21 season grain. That will push 2020/21 season wheat exports past the 26MMT mark, a record for a single production season. Additionally, if domestic consumption is pegged at 9MMT, and assuming that the national carry out conservatively doubles from 1.3MMT in 2019/20 to 2.6MMT in 2020/21, then national wheat production last season has to be north of 36MMT, much higher than the official ABARES number of 33.337MMT.
The barley story is similar. Exports in the year to September 30 totalled 7.921MMT, and there was 340,000MT on October stem. The November stem has 140,000MT out of New South Wales and Victoria, which will be old-crop grain, but the bookings of 220,000MT and 380,000MT out of South Australian and Western Australian, respectively, will largely be new crop grain. That takes last season’s barley exports to 8.4MMT. Pegging domestic consumption at 5.5MMT and carry-out at just 1.2MMT prints a production number of 14.1MMT against ABARES at 13.093MMT.
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