China Thirsty For Malting Barley

China’s thirst for beer has driven up its barley imports from Canada by 86 per cent, but weaker U. S. demand more than offsets those gains.

From August through January, China has replaced the United States as Canada’s top barley export market by importing nearly 208,000 tonnes, according to Statistics Canada.

The surge reflects China’s steadily rising beer consumption over the past decade due to improving incomes, said Bob Cuthbert, senior manager for barley at the Canadian Wheat Board, April 1. Quality concerns about last year’s barley crops in China and Australia directed much of that growing demand to Canada.

Overall Chinese malting barley imports peaked around 2.2 million tonnes in the mid-2000s before slipping to 1.2 million tonnes last year due to high prices. The wheat board projects China will import 1.6 million to 1.7 million tonnes this year.

China has limited potential for increasing its domestic barley acreage because growing areas are far from the big coastal malting plants, Cuthbert said. A limited amount of arable land also means that China prioritizes acres for food grains.

Canada is the world’s top malting barley exporter, mainly through the wheat board’s marketing monopoly on western Canadian wheat and barley. China is the top malting barley importer.

Low freight rates have also made Canadian barley more competitive in China, but European barley has a greater edge because of its sagging euro, Cuthbert said.

Despite China’s higher demand, Canada’s overall barley export volume was down nearly seven per cent through the first half of Canada’s crop year.

U. S. barley imports from Canada fell 62 per cent to 179,000 tonnes, after U. S. farmers produced a big, high-quality crop in 2009, said Steve Edwardson of the North Dakota Barley Council.

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