Australian grain processors have ordered a shipment of wheat from Canada, the first time the grain has been imported in twelve years.
Earlier this month, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources confirmed that a permit had been issues to allow a cargo of wheat to be imported from Canada, bound for the domestic market. The permit will allow the shipment to be transferred through a port in New South Wales to the Manildra Group’s Shoalhaven plant, and it is believed that several other applications for permits have been made.
Growers and industry bodies have expressed their concern about the issue, citing biosecurity risks and the impact on the price of grain. It is believed that the ship has left Vancouver and is due to arrive in Australia between the end of June and the middle of July.
Georgie Warne, a grower and grain trader from Culgoa in the Victorian Mallee, started an online petition to urge the federal Minister for Agriculture to ban wheat imports into Australia. Ms Warne says that domestically available wheat should be a priority over imports.
“There is the wheat, even of that specific quality, around, I just do not feel we need to jeopardise our grains industry for the sake of a 60,000 tonne shipment, especially when it is not a matter of the grain not being available any other way,” she said.
Ms Warne also cites the risk of pests and diseases as being another main reason for avoiding the importation of wheat.
“There are pests in Canada we don’t have in Australia and I don’t think the wheat should be allowed just to come in and move around agricultural areas.”
Chairman of Grain Growers, Brett Hosking, agrees that importing grains carries an inherent biosecurity risk.
“The risk associated with it is that it’s carrying diseases or weeds that Canada may have that we do not have in Australia,” he said.
“How it is transported is crucial because it does not take much for one grain to fall out of a truck or train and potentially bring in a disease.”
In addition to the biosecurity risks of importing wheat, Ms Warne feels that the industry should protect the national yield to protect prices, especially during dry times.
“Last year was a drought year but by virtue of the high prices related to the drought, farmers were able to make the best of what little grain they did have,” she said.
But according to Mr Hosking, those enjoying the benefits of a bulk export market should be prepared for imports when supply is low.
“We play in an export market and we love playing in an export market … part of that means that you have still got to play by the same rules when it goes the other way,” he said. “The ball doesn’t always bounce in our favour.”
New South Wales has also received shipments of wheat from Western Australia, a first in more than ten years. Earlier this month, the Illawarra Mercuryreported that four shipments had been transferred from Western Australia to New South Wales, some loaded with up to 53,000 tonnes of grain.
In previous years, up to 100% of grain grown in Western Australia has been exported, with destinations including the Middle East and Asia.