Report finds diversification in grain port providers, exporter numbers down

Gregor Heard
By Gregor Heard
Updated January 4 2022 - 4:16am, first published 4:00am
It was a record year for bulk grain exports in 2020-21.

AN AUSTRALIAN Competition and Consumer Commission report has found the Australian grain export supply chain is more diverse than ever before in terms of port providers but that there are less companies exporting grain.

The Bulk Grains Monitoring Report found new grain export ports achieved their highest market share of Australian grain exports, reducing the market share of long established incumbent ports, the majority held by Australia's 'Big Three' exporters, GrainCorp, Viterra and CBH.

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The trend was most noticeable on the east coast, where GrainCorp has its network and SA, where Viterra is the dominant player.

In WA, CBH's market share remains largely intact.

However, ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said the fact it was a record in terms of bulk grain exports meant it was hard to say whether the switch to alternative port exporters would be a permanent shift or something caused by a lack of slots in the established ports.

"The ACCC 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," Mr Keogh said.

The report found the 2020-21 shipping year resulted in record volumes of bulk grain exports, arising from the second largest grain harvest since the ACCC began collecting grains data in 2011.

Mr Keogh said the big export year, coming after successive east coast droughts which meant extremely limited exports through NSW and Queensland, provided a clearer picture of how the export system was working.

"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," he said.

"The data shows the new facilities are opening up opportunities for growers and exporters, and the ACCC welcomes industry 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."

Mr Keogh said the data showed clear trends in the grain export program.

For instance, he said there were fewer exporters using each port, with an average of just five exporters a port, compared to eight in 2011-12, reflecting a consolidation in the number of grain exporters.

"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," Mr Keogh said.

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Gregor Heard

Gregor Heard

National Grains Industry Reporter

Gregor Heard is Fairfax Ag Media's national grains industry reporter, based in Horsham, Victoria. He has a wealth of knowledge surrounding the cropping sector through his ten years in the role. Prior to that he was with the Fairfax network as a reporter with Stock & Land. Some of the major issues he has reported on during his time with the company include the deregulation of the export wheat market, the introduction of genetically modified crops and the fight to protect growers better from grain trader insolvencies. Still involved with the family farm he is passionate about rural Australia and its people and hopes to use his role to act as an advocate for those involved in the grain sector. Away from work, he is a keen traveller, having spent his long service leave last year in Spain learning the language.

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