General Information on Australian Grains

Grain industry is a big business.

It is so big that it contributes to almost half of global seed production whose market value was estimated at $60-67 billion in 2018. The global grain production reached an almost historic high last year (2,181 m t). With this year’s record high of 2,230 m t, it is projected to grow substantially in the next few years. Across Australia, commercial cereal crops constitute over 22 million hectares planted and harvested annually.

Grains are a healthy food staple packed with lots of nutrients and phytochemicals used in pantries all over the world. But, surprisingly enough, even though grains can be used in nearly each meal during the day (think porridge for breakfast, pretzel for lunch and pizza for dinner), that is not where the main source of grain consumption comes from. Over 75% of the global grain production is used in livestock feeding. That makes it 250 million m t used to satisfy our meat-based needs.

Let’s have a closer look at the world’s single best source of food energy – cereal grains.

What are grains?

Grains are dry, edible, starchy seeds, with or without an attached fruit layer or hull, that grow on grass-like plants called cereals. Cereal crops refer to a special species of monocot flowering plants part of the Poaceae family, formerly known as Gramineae. Also referred to as kernels or berries, grains are durable seeds which can be stored for long periods of time. However, due to their composite nature, they cannot be consumed raw. Before consumption, they have to be processed. Some of the most common methods are flaked, popped, grounded, cracked, rolled, soaked, sprouted or puffed.

What is the nutritional value of grains?

Grains contain lots of phytochemicals, fatty acids, micro and macro nutrients that promote a healthy gut microbiome. Because grains are high in fiber (and fiber is essential to proper digestion), whole grain foods (as opposed to refined grain foods) make up an important part of a healthy diet.

Whole grains are rich in –

  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B
  • Folic Acid
  • Fiber
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • Iron

and others.

Numerous research claims that the consumption of whole grain foods may reduce the risk of certain cancers, lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, decrease the risk of heart disease and aid in weight management (due to their high contents of dietary fiber).

Types of Grains

Australian Grain types

Nowadays, the 4 most commonly produced types of grains in the world are maize, wheat, rice and barley, with maize, also known as corn, leading the charts. Last year, global maize production was estimated at 1.05 million thousand tonnes, and it is expected to grow substantially in the next couple of years. At the moment, maize, wheat and rice crop areas make up for almost half of global seed production. Other true cereal grains, members of the Poaceae family, include oats, sorghum, rye and millet. There are also different varieties of wheat as well as a mixture of wheat and rye called triticale.

Maize

Maize or corn is a tall annual grass with long smooth leaves. The kernels or grains are encased in husks which can be of different colors – yellow, white, red, purple or black.

Wheat

Wheat is a cereal grain of light tan to brown color. Its grains grow encased in a fruit called ‘a head of wheat’ at the top of the plant. One head of wheat can make up to 50 seeds.

Rice

Rice is an annual cereal grain with starchy seeds, naturally brown, but turns white once the outer layer of the bran is removed.

Barley

Barley is an annual grass that grows tall with a hairy stem and spikelets at the head.

Oats

Oats are an annual grass with long and elliptical grains, somewhat ridged. 

Sorghum

Sorghum is an annual plant that can grow to a height of 4 m. Its edible seeds have a nutty flavor.

Rye

Rye is an annual grass related to barley and wheat. Its edible seeds are of a long and elliptical form.

Millet

Millet is an annual grass with very small edible seeds. The color of the seeds can range from white to orange, red or even black.

Triticale

Triticale is a wheat-rye hybrid with seeds darker than that of wheat and rye.

There are also pseudo-grains which are seeds used as grains. As opposed to true cereal grains, pseudo-grains come from bushy plants or shrubs. Some of the main types of pseudo-grains commonly produced and consumed are buckwheat (surprisingly, it has nothing in common with wheat), quinoa, amaranth. Since they are usually mistakenly referred to as grains, it is important to understand their true nature.

The Australian grain trade 

Australia is recognized as one of the cleanest environments in the world with very high standards when it comes to grain production. Despite the droughts of the last 10 years, Australia remains one of the world’s top agricultural producers and exporters.

The critical need to ensure easy access to overseas markets requires a constant focus on the development of international protocols that would avoid and effectively tackle any technical issues that could potentially disrupt grain trade. Grain Trade Australia is the national body that oversees all contracts and commercial activities within the Australian grain trade industry.

Australian grains are increasingly in demand and sought after across the world which makes the Australian grain industry be very much focused on export. Australia exports over 70% of its grains to overseas markets. That is about 29 million tonnes of grains at a value of over $11 billion.

Wheat production in Australia constitutes the largest share in the Australian grain industry producing around 25 million tonnes of wheat per year. It is the major grain exported followed by canola, barley and pulses.

Table: Relative value and volume of key grain exports

VolumeValue
Wheat65.47%59.13%
Canola9.47%16.42%
Barley16.50%11.20%
Pulses6.20%13.26%
Source: 5 year average 2013-2017 derived from ABS (Grain Central)

    

The years 2018 to 2020 have seen some big changes with grain export affected by the climatic factors as well as changes in trade conditions, but it is expected to go up in the next couple of years.

What are the major export markets for the Australian grain industry?

For many years, Asia has been a major export market for the Australian grain industry, specifically wheat (the single most important crop by tonnage and value), and to a lesser degree barley, sorghum.

Indonesia, Vietnam China, Philippines, Korea, Japan are leading the charts for the export of wheat followed by the Middle East.

Table: Major Export Markets for Australian Wheat (average 2014-2018)

RankMarketVolumeValuePercent by Value
1Indonesia3.8mmt$1.1b20.8
2Vietnam1.4mmt$435m8.2
3China1.3mmt$373m7.0
4Philippines1.3mmt$358m6.8
5Korea1.1mmt$337m6.4
6Japan0.9mmt$316m6.0
7Malaysia0.9mmt$254m4.8
8Yemen0.8mmt$245m4.6
9India0.8mmt$227m4.3
10New Zealand0.5mmt$159m3.0
Grain Central

    

A major exporter of barley, Australia produces over 9 million metric tonnes of barley per year and has a 30% share in the world’s malting barley trade. Barley trade is a $2 billion industry with major markets in Asia and Middle East.

What are Australia’s top grain growers?

There are over 120.000 grain growers in Australia out of which over 30.000 focus mostly on the production of wheat. The typical farm is family-owned and spans over generations, but the huge focus on export has contributed to more corporate farming businesses paving their way into the Australian grain growing industry.  

Lawson Grains – one of Australia’s top grain growers with over 100.000 ha of land and 10 property aggregations located all over Australia.

Glenvale Farms – a fourth generation family farm with over 4000 ha of land located in the Wimmera Wheatbelt, 35km north-east of Horsham, Victoria.

Warakirri Corporation –a leading grain grower with over 100.000 ha across Australia.

Click here for more information on the Australia grain trade.