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Ample world malt barley supply to limit export prices

MarketsFarm — Canadian malt barley growers may be dealing with adverse harvest conditions that could lead to quality downgrades in some areas — while world supplies of the key beer ingredient remain more than sufficient to meet global demand.

“There’s no real indication at this time that we’ll see a significant up move (in price),” said Klaus Schumacher, an advisor with RMI Analytics in Hamburg, Germany.

After some harvest delays in Scandinavia, the European barley harvest is in the bins with no major quality issues aside from some lower proteins in parts of France, said Schumacher.

He expected the world was well supplied with malt barley for the time being, but eyes are on Australia where a drought is hurting production prospects.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) pegged the country’s 2019-20 winter barley crop at 9.5 million tonnes, which would be up from the 8.3 million tonnes grown the previous year — due largely to an increase in seeded area.

However, crop prospects have deteriorated due to dryness in some areas of the country, and Schumacher said the malt quality was likely affected by the drought.

Australia could also face its own challenges selling grain to China amid an ongoing Chinese anti-dumping investigation into Australian barley.

While the overall quality is still up in the air, Canada’s barley crop will be much larger on the year and will have an impact on the marketplace.

Statistics Canada recently pegged total 2019-20 barley production in the country at 9.987 million tonnes, which would be well above the 8.38 million grown the previous year.

Canada exported an estimated 3.13 million tonnes of barley in 2018-19, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimates, with China a major buyer.

“It is quite difficult to judge at this point in time what the Chinese will do,” said Schumacher, pointing to Canada’s diplomatic dispute with the country. While China will remain a major world buyer of malt barley, the outbreak of African swine fever in its hog herd should limit its feed demand.

“The chances are slim that (China) will import a lot of feed barley,” said Schumacher.

France has a surplus of malt barley and will likely be selling into the Chinese market, according to Schumacher. Any additional drought problems in Australia could also swing more business to Europe.

The Black Sea region and Russia are also possible sources of malt barley, although Schumacher expected the region would only account for occasional shipments due to high proteins and quality issues.

Argentina is another world barley-growing region to keep an eye on. The country largely sells to Brazil, but could expand outside of South America and potentially sell to China. Schumacher said that would depend on exchange rates, shipping costs and domestic agricultural policies.

— Phil Franz-Warkentin writes for MarketsFarm, a Glacier FarmMedia division specializing in grain and commodity market analysis and reporting.

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