US, Canada make rare barley purchases

The US and Canada are scheduled to receive rare malting barley cargoes from Argentina and Australia, respectively, this month, as drought conditions in North America last summer have weighed on both countries’ production of crop.

A US-bound vessel carrying 43,750t of malting barley was scheduled to leave Necochea port in Argentina this week, line-up data show. The cargo is being exported by Argentinian firms Ocaco and Campoamor.

It represents the US’ biggest single barley purchase from Argentina since at least 2012, customs data show. Argentina last exported malt barley to the US in 2016, when a small 198t cargo was shipped in January, while shipments of product to the US previously reached an annual high of 2,985t in 2014. It implies that this recent purchase would already put US imports of malting barley from Argentina to a new high this year.

And at least one more US-bound malting barley cargo is scheduled to leave Argentinian ports later this month, participants said.

Meanwhile, GrainCorp is scheduled to ship a 30,000t malting barley cargo to Canada from Port Geelong in Australia on 24 February, according to latest line-up data. No malting barley cargo has previously been shipped in that direction since at least 2012, customs data show.

The US mainly trades barley with Canada only, both importing and exporting product. As for barley for malting purposes specifically, the US imports almost exclusively from Canada but occasionally turns to European supply in years of poor production in North America. In 2021, nearly half of US malting barley imports — 33,000t — came from Denmark.

And Canada — a net exporter of barley — occasionally turns to imports for malting purposes, with most shipments arriving from the US. The country has also bought malting barley from Europe in the past — Germany and Denmark in particular.

But hot and dry weather last summer pressured barley production in both the US and Canada, which hit multi-year lows. Canada and the US harvested some 6.95mn t and 2.56mn t, respectively, for the 2021-22 marketing year, down from 10.74mn t and 3.72mn t a year earlier. At the same time, Canada’s already weak exportable surplus quickly depleted this year, amid strong purchasing commitments from China at the start of the marketing season. Canadian barley exports — feed and malt combined — have already reached 1.58mn t so far this year. In comparison, the US Department of Agriculture pegs Canada’s barley exports this year at 1.6mn t, implying that there is little left to be shipped until the end of the season.

By Bilal Muftuoglu

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