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Australian 2019-20 production to recover to 21.2 million mt: analysts

New Delhi — Australia, which made a rare purchase of Canadian wheat in the current marketing year, is expected to continue buying more wheat in the 2019-20 marketing year (October-September), as weather conditions remain difficult in key states, market analysts say.

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Australia's wheat output dropped 45.6% to 17.3 million mt in the 2018-19 marketing year from a record high of 31.8 million mt in 2016-17, owing to prolonged drought conditions, data from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics shows. This forced the country to import wheat for the first time in 12 years.

Australia will see more wheat imports this year and through next year, James Maxwell, manager at Australian Crop Forecasters, told S&P Global Platts.

Queensland and northern New South Wales, where almost all of Australia's high protein Australian Prime Hard wheat is produced, are facing as bad a season as last year, if not worse, and drought conditions remain, Maxwell said. "There will again be a shortage of the high quality wheat that is required for industrial purposes," he said.

Australia's Manildra Group, which bought the imported Canadian wheat, said it was the first time in the company's history that exceptional drought circumstances had forced the requirement for high protein wheat imports, which is in short supply.

Australia is expected to import about 300,000-500,000 mt of wheat in 2019-20, likely from Canada, Maxwellsaid.

SHIPMENTS FROM CANADA

About 260,000 mt of Canadian wheat imports have been confirmed so far this year, Maxwell said.

A vessel carrying 60,000 mt of Canada Western Red Spring grade wheat is expected to arrive on August 23 at Port Kembla, New South Wales, while another vessel, possibly carrying 30,000 mt of Canadian durum wheat, is expected to reach Port Adelaide, Australia, on August 26, Maxwell added.

Importing whole grain wheat into Australia is very rare, and involves a stringent process that assesses potential biosecurity risks posed by the imported commodity.

"It is highly unlikely the grain will come from anywhere other than Canada as the very strict requirements imposed on importers by [Australia's Department of Agriculture] means they have to have every supply chain approved," Maxwell said. "So if it was to come from anywhere else, the importer would pretty much have to go through the entire very costly approval process again."

SMALLER VOLUMES

However, analysts and agencies predict Australian production to recover to 21.2 million mt in 2019-20, leading to smaller wheat volumes shipping into Australia.

"Canadian exports to Australia were a bit of a surprise but the volumes were still relatively small," founder of Canada-based LeftField Commodity Research Chuck Penner told S&P Global Platts. "With a partial recovery in Australian production, I wouldn't expect to see meaningful volumes flowing from Canada to Australia again in 2019/20."

Imports will generally only be required during the worst droughts, and so will be rare, Australia-based Mecardo Analysis grain analyst Andrew Whitelaw said.

Even with a weak crop, Australia would likely import smaller volumes, but only because of logistics, senior commodity futures advisor at Canada-based PI Financial Corp Ken Ball said.

"They have the wheat, but it sometimes might be cheaper to ship it into [Eastern Australia] from the US or Canada, as opposed to railing it all the way from [Western] Australia," Ball said.

Canada's ex-durum wheat exports are expected to fall 2% to 18.9 million mt in 2019-20 (August-July) on the back of growing global competition, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada acting deputy director Chris Beckman said.

-- Rohan Somwanshi, rohan.somwanshi@spglobal.com

-- Edited by James Burgess, james.burgess@spglobal.com