THE AUSTRALIAN barley industry needs to look at alternative markets outside of China while still looking to work with brewers and maltsters within the world's most populous nation to reach its potential.
This was one of the major findings from a new report, entitled Barley 2030, put together by the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC).
Mary Raynes, AEGIC's barley markets manager, said the need to diversify had been demonstrated by the recent Chinese decision to implement hefty tariffs on Australian imports due to alleged dumping of product on the Chinese market.
It has led to a mad scramble to find alternate markets from Australian barley exporters, who have come to rely heavily on exporting to China for the bulk of their orders in recent years following the slowing of demand out of Saudi Arabia, previously our biggest customer for barley.
Ms Raynes said into the future having a wide range of buyers from different origins would help create an unhealthy reliance on a single buyer like what has emerged with China.
And while barley does not have the universal demand of wheat, Ms Raynes said there were plenty of potential homes for both malt and feed lines of barley.
She said the Australian industry should now be identifying those new markets with the most potential.
"We are recommending that the Australian industry, supported by government, should identify alternative market opportunities," she said.
"This will involve detailed market analysis, including the value and volume of opportunity, the suitability of Australian barley for key end uses in malt and feed, and any market access constraints".
AEGIC has identified some tantalising prospects, where growing demand is matched by freight advantages.
Chief among them are affluent countries in northern Asia, such as Japan and South Korea, south-east Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, along with India.
The Australian government has been working with its Indian counterpart to develop biosecurity protocols that will allow Australian malt barley into India.
Agreement has been reached on grain storage treatments and the conversation is now around weed seeds.
However, while saying that a diverse portfolio of customers was something to work towards, Ms Raynes said the industry needed to remain in contact with the Chinese brewing and malting sectors, in spite of the current tariffs and that it was too big a market to ignore.
"China is by far the largest importer of malting barley globally and will remain so towards 2030," she said.
"There are strong mutual benefits to continued engagement with China.
"Chinese barley users will be more likely to quickly start buying Australian barley - particularly malting barley - again if tariffs are lifted, because they will remain informed about the malting and brewing quality aspects of new Australian barley varieties, research, and market developments."
"The Australian industry will also remain mindful of the needs of Chinese brewers and maltsters when making breeding and classification decisions."
Ms Raynes said Australia would need to maintain and grow its presence in important malting markets outside China, most notably India and Vietnam.
"The industry should focus on regular, positive engagement with these markets, and others, to make sure Australian barley is meeting their needs," she said.
"An improved understanding of potential new barley uses could also benefit the Australian industry, for example high beta glucan barley for human health and combination food uses such as barley/rice mixes.
She said a similar strategy could also work in the feed sector.
"The report also recommends that Australia develop and communicate targeted information about the benefits of Australian barley for animal feed to a range of markets.
"Some success with this strategy has been seen in increasing feed volumes to Thailand in recent years."