WA’s agricultural exports surge to a record $12.1 billion after the State’s record 24.3mt grain harvest

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
Camera IconHarvest. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

WA’s record grain harvest has added a whopping $8.5 billion in export value to the State’s economy and propelled the value of agricultural exports to a record $12.1b on the back of surging demand, strong production and favourable seasonal conditions.

International demand for WA farmers’ products is booming, with the State recording the most agricultural export value growth out of any state or territory — up 53.6 per cent — last financial year and accounting for 8.1 per cent of the total $67.5b export value.

Strong demand for wool and sheepmeat helped WA surge past last year’s $49.3b export total, but it was the State’s record harvest that really powered exports forward after 24.3Mt of wheat, barley, canola and other crops were harvested in 2021-22.

Grain exports increased by $3.7b, up 77.6 per cent, and accounted for 70.3 per cent of the State’s agricultural export value.

Harvest at CBH Group's Brookton site.
Camera IconHarvest at CBH Group's Brookton site. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

WA’s grains industry is still celebrating after delivering the record crop last harvest, which was well beyond the 2016-17 record of 18.15mt and resulted in enough grain to fill Optus Stadium — including the stands and oval — 17 times.

The rare combination of increased production and higher commodity prices drove the crop’s export value increase, with export volume and average prices rising 35 per cent to drive an 82 per cent rise in the overall value of exports nationally.

The value of Australian cropping exports increased 81.9 per cent in 2021-22 and was 128.3 per cent above the five-year average.

Some of the grain from the 2021-22 harvest is still being shifted from upcountry storage sites to port, with some farmers believing supply chain issues getting grain to port have hamstrung a potential $1 billion to $2 billion in additional export value.

WA grain growers look set to bring in another big crop in 2022-23, with estimates for the upcoming harvest set to start in October and run until February sitting at about 20Mt.

Rural Bank’s latest Trade Report, released today, revealed WA was the third-biggest agricultural exporter by value in 2021-22, behind Victoria ($17.4b) and New South Wales ($12.7b).

WA was well ahead of Queensland ($10.6b), South Australia ($7.6b) and Tasmania ($1b) — all of which experienced growth, while agricultural exports from the Northern Territory plummeted 27.7 per cent to their lowest value since 2013-14, to $413m.

Harvesting barley at Boyup Brook farmer Ben Creek's property.
Camera IconHarvesting barley at Boyup Brook farmer Ben Creek's property. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

There was plenty of good news for WA in the report, which also revealed the west had retained its title as the nation’s biggest vegetable exporter by State, accounting for more than 90 per cent of the nation’s carrot exports.

Fruit and vegetable exports from WA grew $8.8m and $4.5m respectively.

Vegetable exports were worth $120m, more than double the second-richest vegetable exporting state of Victoria at $52.2m.

Both states were the only two to record significant increases in fruit exports, with WA recording up 24.6 per cent to $44 million.

This was partially driven by an $8.6 million, up 336 per cent by value, increase in WA avocado exports.

VegetablesWA project manager Manus Stockdale said the State’s proximity to Asia and quality products meant demand was strong.

“Carrot exports are big in WA because we produce high-quality carrots at a globally competitive price,” he said.

“The quality of the produce we produce is exceptional, and we have proximity to South East Asia.

“Our freight is more expensive but our sea freight is five to seven days to Asia.”

Nationally, an increase in the average vegetable export price helped to offset a decline in volume, with exports declining 1.6 per cent.

Mr Stockdale said farmers’ margins were being squeezed by soaring prices for farm inputs, sea and air freight, and labour, as well as difficulty finding workers.

“Most growers are dealing with 20 to 50 per cent less staff... and that would certainly contribute to a decrease in exports,” he said.

Wool exports were also a strong performer for WA, rising by $195m, while lamb exports were up $98m, beef exports were up $57m, and and wine bucked a national trend to increase 5.1 per cent to account for 2 per cent of national value.

WA slipped from its long-established position as the most valuable seafood exporting state, with export values falling 10 per cent after unofficial ban on exports to China significantly weakened national demand for rock lobsters.

Seafood and dairy were the only commodity groups to record declines in WA, down 10 per cent and 18 per cent respectively.

Nationally, live sheep exports continued to decline in value with an 8.2 per cent fall in 2021-22 to only $85 million.

The fall was led by an 18.8 per cent fall in the number of sheep exported, offset by a 13.1 per cent rise in average price.

The national value of live sheep exports in 2021-22 is only a third of what it was four years ago in 2017-18 with the Federal Government’s ban on trade to Middle East during the northern hemisphere summer has dramatically restricted export volumes.

Diversification was a key theme in 2021-22, with a strong recovery in exports to China after a large decline in 2020-21 and a share of export value outside top 10 markets rising 37 per cent.

The report heralded room for more upside with trade agreements with the UK and India set to come into effect.

The latest Federal Government figures show agricultural exports reaching a record $64.9 billion in 2022-23, but the National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said the positive numbers concealed the “cost of farming” crunch impacting farmers.

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences’ latest forecast predicts the industry’s gross value will tip past $80b for a second consecutive year on the back of favourable weather conditions and high world food prices, but Ms Simson said many farmers were facing “eye-watering” production costs.

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