Bulk grain ports monitoring report reveals how the industry will cope with this record season

A report on how bulk grain ports handled the second highest winter harvest on record last year gives a glimpse of what is to come in the current record season

Industry pundits are watching this 2021-22 record harvest as it follows on from the second biggest winter harvest on record last year when bulk grain terminals were put under pressure

The highest bulk grain export shipping year on record was driven by near-record production last year, with exporters accessing an increasing number of port operations across the country.

It was the largest bulk grain export shipping year on record in 2020–21, at 33.3 million tonnes. That result was more than double the bulk exports in the drought affected 2019–20 shipping year that only reached 15.8 million tonnes and was 37% above the average tally of 24.4 million tonnes.

The previous bulk grain export record was 31.5 million tonnes, and that occurred in record breaking 2016–17 winter harvest.

All states exceeded their average bulk export levels, with WA, NSW and Victoria achieving record bulk export seasons:

WA exported 14.5 million tonnes (14% above average).

SA exported 6.8 million tonnes (19% above average).

Victoria exported 5.0 million tonnes (80% above average).

NSW exported 5.7 million tonnes (153% above average).

Queensland exported 1.4 million tonnes (47% above average).

The record bulk export shipping year for season 2020–21 was driven by the second highest grain production year on record. Nationally, 57.6 million tonnes of grain were produced, slightly below the record of 58.1 million tonnes in 2016–17.

This map shows where the bulk grain terminals are situated around the coast and the highlighted areas show the main grain growing production regions

The significant increase in production comes after severe drought conditions resulted in the two lowest consecutive production years since 2007–08.

It appears that exporters were able to secure the capacity they needed over the course of an extended peak shipping season. Exporters shipped bulk grain from all 28 facilities across Australia, and recent entry into the PTSP market meant that there was more capacity on offer in 2020–21 to facilitate the record shipment levels.

The Bulk Grains Port monitoring report just released, confirms the 2020-21 shipping year resulted in record volumes of bulk grain exports, arising from the second largest grain harvest since collecting export grains data began in 2011.

Grain from the 2020-21 season presented a good opportunity to test both the effectiveness of new and competing ports, and the impact of reduced regulation on these markets, which has been implemented over the past few years.

The data shows new facilities are opening up opportunities for growers and exporters, and the industry welcomes feedback on whether these developments are sustainable or are a response by exporters to constraints associated with existing facilities or limits to the overall effectiveness of the Wheat Ports Code. 

This where the grain came from last year in and while only the second highest harvest on record it went on to break the all-time export record

The report demonstrates that exporter market shares changed at a number of facilities in 2020-21, and that on average only five exporters used each port, compared to eight in 2011-12, despite a near-record production of grain.

Despite a record year for bulk grain exports, the data shows a decline in the average number of exporters per port, while at the same time a growing number of new and smaller port facilities are increasing exports.

This has meant significant changes over the past few years, with two of the three major port terminal service providers, Viterra and GrainCorp, beginning to lose market share to the growing number of the new bulk grain port terminal facilities across Australia. However, the other major provider CBH, continues to provide the vast majority of services in Western Australia.

The overall industry is particularly interested in looking at whether the increased use of new port facilities is a result of the large harvest, the economic efficiency of these facilities, or the difficulty securing access to the incumbent ports.

These are important considerations which will inform the assessment of the value of granted exemptions and the long term need for the Code.

An industry update report that will include feedback from growers, exporters, and port terminal service providers is due to be released in early 2022.