Barley's big bounce back

Barley's big bounce back

Grain
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Reports of the barley industry's demise in the wake of Chinese tariffs last year

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WHEN China implemented its onerous tariffs on Australian barley in May last year there was widespread pessimism around the industry.

Analysts were worried that without China, which had been the largest buyer of Australian barley, the market would struggle to find a home for our product at an acceptable price.

Fast forward nearly 18 months and the Doomsday predictions have failed to eventuate, with a complex set of supply and demand factors working in the Australian industry's favour.

Two strong production years locally have serendipitously aligned with two years of markedly below average crops in the northern hemisphere, meaning buyers such as Saudi Arabia, which had moved away from Australian product to using more from the Black Sea, are once again hungry for our grain.

While barley has largely flown under the radar in the wake of high flying crops such as canola, lentils and even wheat, forecasters are predicting a big year for barley producers.

There has been slightly less barley planted this year as farmers looked to take advantage of the good start in places like WA and NSW and look to higher returning, higher risks crops such as canola, but generally high yields will mean there is only a small drop in overall production.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences had barley production flagged at 12.5 million tonnes in its most recent September crop report, down from 13.1m tonnes last year, but some analysts believe there is further upside in that number given the kind finish in many areas.

Regardless, the figure of 12.5m tonnes remains well above the five year average of 10.8m tonnes.

Harvest has kicked off in Queensland and is moving into NSW, with particularly good crops in NSW's Central West ready for harvest in around 10 days to a fortnight.

In Queensland AgForce grains section president Brendan Taylor said many farmers on the Darling Downs were recording their best yields in five years.

"Around my area, Warra, on the Western Downs, there are plenty of reports of early barley going 5-6 tonnes a hectare, which is a great return," Mr Taylor said.

"The early sown barley is definitely the pick in comparison to the later sown stuff, which ran into a tough patch in August and September when there was little rain."

He said there had been a rain delay before the later sown crops were ready to harvest.

Lodging has been an issue, but Mr Taylor said it was still possible to harvest crops.

"A lot of plants have fallen over which is understandable given the weight of the heads, you can still get them it just means slowing down a bit on the header.

On the Queensland / NSW border Boggabilla farmer and Grains Research and Development Corporation chairman John Woods said last week harvest was close to commencing.

"There has been a little bit come off around Goondiwindi but the activity is primarily further to the west where I am hearing good reports," Mr Woods said.

"Out towards Mungindi and Rowena they are going and the barley is yielding well."

"The rain has been nuisance value for winter croppers, with patchy totals up to 60mm, but we're optimistic of good yields here too when we get into it properly."

Mr Woods said lodging had also been a problem in his area, but said it did not look set to cause either yield or quality damage.

"It's likely to mean the crops take a bit longer to harvest but people will cop that so long as the yield is still there."

In NSW's Central West Robinson Grain general manager Adam Robinson said there was slightly less barley in but yields were likely to compensate.

He said with the strong wheat and canola prices on offer if farmers were to store any grain it was likely to be barley, however he said returns were still higher than historical averages for barley.

"You're looking at prices around $210/tonne delivered to an upcountry depot, which is pretty good based on past history," Mr Robinson said.

He said there was good demand, both local and international, for product.

"With sorghum largely diverted to China in the last couple of years more local feeders have been using barley in their feed rations and they are happy using it now," he said.

"Internationally, feed grain supplies in particular remain fairly tight so there will be no problems in finding a home for product, there is plenty of inquiry, navigating the supply chain logistics and avoiding delays is probably the major challenge for exporters at present."

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