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Australia Importing Canadian Grain

Australia’s hardships may continue beyond the end of 2019 as the country is in the midst of its worst drought in 116 years. After experiencing extreme dry conditions throughout significant parts of the 2018-2019 crop growing season, Australia found itself in the rare position of having to import Canadian grain. The prolonged dry spell that has plagued Australia over the past year has had significant impacts on the country’s ability to produce and export their products to international markets. In turn, Australia’s wheat exports dipped by about 45% compared to the record setting 2016-2017 year. With no end in sight, Australian imports of Canadian grain is expected to approach 350,000 metric tonnes throughout 2019-2020. If reached, this quantity would surpass the previous years import total by about 100,000 metric tonnes.

According to the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, the current grain importing situation is described as follows –

“Businesses have historically sought to import bulk grain for a variety of commercial reasons. This includes supplementing short supplies of domestic grain during drought periods. The last time grain was imported was in 2007. Canola was imported from Canada, soybean from Brazil and sunflower from Argentina.

With drought affecting large portions of grain growing areas of eastern Australia, businesses are seeking to import certain classes of bulk grain from overseas. This grain is then processed into stockfeed and milling products.

As of 26 August 2019, we have received 14 applications to import bulk grain from the USA and Canada. The applications cover canola, wheat, corn, and sorghum.

Six permits have been issued for imports of bulk wheat from Canada. The other applications are in varying stages of assessment.”

Import permits are granted on a case-by-case basis, the potential risks towards Australia’s biosecurity are carefully scrutinized. For this reason and the cost of having an entire supply-chain approved are likely the major reasons why Canada is one of the only countries currently permitted to export grain to Australia. While the Department of Agriculture acknowledges that imported grain is not a zero-risk situation, they consider the “biosecurity risks associated with bulk wheat sourced from the Canadian Prairies for processing can be effectively managed in accordance with the risk management measure[s].” At this time, additional preventative measures have not been implemented like those that are required for fertilizer imports. The requirements, which are “designed to reduce quarantine contaminants in the fertiliser pathway and supply chain,” include “Inspections must be carried out during daylight hours only with hatches open and with the use of man-lifts (where applicable) to enable proper access to all areas of holds” and with strict hold inspections. Although it is unclear if further requirements will be administered for grain at this time, it seems unlikely due to the stringent protocols and training of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.