Feedgrain Focus: Sorghum shorts pre-occupy north

Liz Wells, 23/04/2021

This early canola crop in Bridgewater, Victoria, is off to a strong start as growers across eastern Australia turn attention from selling last year’s crop to planting this year’s. Photo: Justin Kudnig, Pacific Seeds

PROMPT prices for wheat, barley and sorghum have firmed in the past week as consumers bid up to fill their requirements while the trade continues to feed as much grain as it can into the export pathway.Road transport remains in limited supply, with quality problems for some sorghum loads delivering to export terminals in Brisbane further limiting truck availability.

Southern markets are focussed on getting barley and wheat to vessels in time to meet multiple loading deadlines, price and logistics leaving some domestic consumers struggling to get a look-in.

Growers in most parts of eastern Australia are preoccupied with planting their winter crops, and those in the north are also harvesting summer crops.

Activity in the domestic market is therefore confined to trade-to-trade rather than grower-to-trade business.

“Everything’s firmer,” one trader said.

“It’s because of offshore markets, logistics here, and the fact that growers aren’t big sellers now, plus you’ve got consumer shorts into May-June.”

This week Change on week
Barley Downs April-May $276 Up $8
Barley Melbourne April-May $258 Up $3
Barley Melbourne January $250 Down $5
Sorghum Downs April-May $310 Up $7
Wheat Downs April-May $305 Up $10
Wheat Melbourne April-May $313 Up $1
Wheat Melbourne January $310 Up $8

Table 1: Indicative prices in AUD per tonne.

Sorghum headaches

Exporters are keeping an eagle eye out for mouse droppings in grain samples, sorghum in particular.

Their vigilance, which enforces Australian grain-industry standards, means numerous loads of sorghum have been rejected at Brisbane ports.

Others are being graded on their way to port, or graded to remove any foreign matter post rejection.

Shipping stems indicate around 50,000 tonnes of sorghum are being loaded in the coming week, most of it in Brisbane with a smaller amount in Newcastle. China, Japan and Kenya are the destinations.

Armidale-based trader Wal Broun, Broun & Co, said export slots for high-quality sorghum were keeping its prices well out of reach of the local feed market.

“There’s a strong premium for export,” Mr Broun said.

“Ships have arrived and the grain needs to get to port now.”

Sorghum historically trades at a discount to barley, but export-grade tonnage is in such short supply that it has been trading even at a premium to wheat.

“If loads are rejected, you have to go and get them graded, or find another home for them, and the domestic market is not paying what they don’t have to.”

Quality of later sorghum crops on the Darling Downs and the Liverpool Plains is good, and yields are average- to well-above.

Mr Broun said some public storages on the Liverpool Plains were now starting to fill up, and the region’s growers were getting close to the start of planting.

Growers in the Moree district and in north-west New South Wales generally are mostly a week or so into their planting programs.

Mr Broun said northern NSW barley was in demand from feedlots up into southern Queensland.

“Short positions are popping up into the feedlots, or the feedlots themselves are buying.

“We’re certainly seeing a lack of grower selling.”

Pull from southern ports

Trucks taking grain from farm to port have reduced the flow of grain to domestic consumers as the export task continues to stretch road and rail capabilities.

Logistics hiccups, including a three-day closure at Wallendbeen late last month of the main rail line to Port Kembla, have most grain companies behind on their deliveries to port.

The closure occurred because of flood damage to a road bridge over the rail line.

Rebuilding of the bridge will reroute grain trucks using the Burley Griffin Way from some months.

While GrainCorp was able to draw grain for Kembla from its Cunningar site east of Wallendbeen, other operators with sites west of the closed line felt the pinch.

Key Agri Services broker Matt Noonan said up-country consumers in southern NSW were chasing grain from areas a long way from port.

“There isn’t as much going to Port Kembla and Melbourne out of the Riverina and from west of the Newell Highway.”

Mr Noonan said small amounts of grazing wheat and canola were being planted in the inner slopes, but growers in western areas were looking for 10-15 millimetres of rain to kick-start their seeding programs.

“Freight problems are starting to clear up, and getting back on schedule after the couple of short weeks we had with Easter, but still a fair bit needs to go by road.

“We’ve seen a few wheat and barley shorts into local up-country homes.

“This happens around late April and into May when growers have gone to ground with planting.”

Mr Noonan said some prompt wheat and barley markets have kicked by up to $10/t or more in recent weeks, but new-crop activity has been limited.

“In new-crop, the focus has been on canola.”

In the cottonseed market, values have been mostly steady.

“There is some export interest underpinning values, but cottonseed is the poor cousin to canola at the moment,” Woodside Commodities managing director Hamish Steele-Park said.

“Cottonseed with a low oil content is really a hybrid of feed and oil demand.”

Cottonseed values this week are steady at around $375/t delivered Downs, $335/t Moree and $325/t Namoi Valley and ex Macquarie Valley gin, while the southern NSW market is sitting at $355/t.


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