LOOKING at value-adding and working harder to develop new markets for WA barley will be critical after China imposed tariffs of up to 73.6 per cent on Australian exports of the grain, says WAFarmers grain section president Mic Fels.
He said the idea of looking into the exporting of malt, instead of malt barley, as a way of developing better relationships with other premium paying markets was worth pursuing.
Mr Fels said it was indisputable that Australia has the world's highest quality barley and there were other markets out there that know that.
"We need to remind them of the value of Australia's barley and build relationships with those other markets," Mr Fels said.
"We've been too dependent on China for too long, but we've got feed and malt barley and they have quite distinct markets around the world.
"There's a big market worldwide for feed barley, especially in Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
"Plus Indonesia, with their new trade agreement with Australia, they are looking for more feed grain and the timing on that is great."
It's also important to note that if China starts buying barley from somewhere else, such as Canada or the United States, countries that normally buy their grain will be looking elsewhere."
Mr Fels, who farms in the Esperance area, had already sown about 700 hectares to barley in a medium rainfall zone, but with another 1400ha planned for a high rainfall area, he's considering making a change.
"I'm contemplating a switch to wheat or canola for some of that, but we're a bit unique with having so much left to go in, I'd estimate somewhere between 80 and 90 per cent of the State's barley is already in the ground," Mr Fels said.
"Despite that, we can't run around saying the sky is falling, we're a resilient mob that deals with frost, wind, drought, fires and market volatility.
"That's all part of the game for us, we know there is risk and we know how to adapt to that and put buffers in our business so if we have a bad year, we can still survive."
The barley industry in WA is worth just shy of $1 billion and with about a 15 per cent hit predicted, there will likely be between $100 million and $200m pulled out of regional economies.
It's a lot of money to come out of regional communities, especially given that when farmers have a good year, the towns do as well.
Mr Fels said these things all have flow-on effects and often it's the knock-on that hurts more than the original decision.
"In the short to medium-term, it certainly seems to be a devastating blow for the WA barley industry and the towns they serve," he said.
"Our economies are already struggling with the COVID-19 situation, so at the State level they do need to think about how these tariffs may flow-on to the regional communities.
"At WAFarmers we really appreciate the hard yards the State and Federal government have been putting in trying to get a good outcome, they haven't been successful yet, but that's not from lack of trying."