WORLD Australia prepares to import grain in wake of devastating drought

WORLD

Australia prepares to import grain in wake of devastating drought

Xinhua

10:49, November 01, 2018

CANBERRA, Nov. 1 (Xinhua) -- Australia's Department of Agriculture is preparing to import grain for the first time in over a decade as the nation's drought takes hold.

In a statement released on Thursday, the department said it was assessing five options to import bulk whole grain from the United States and Canada.

If it goes ahead it would be the first time Australia has brought in additional grain since 2006.

It comes at a time where grain production on Australia's east coast, where the drought is worst, has fallen to its lowest level in a generation.

At the current rate, Western Australia (WA) will produce more than half the national crop since the 1990s.

According to forecasts from agriculture lending giant Rabobank, the national winter crop would produce less than 30 million tonnes of grain, down 23 percent on 2017.

The bank said it expected the 2018 harvest to "go down as one of the worst in eastern Australia's history."

Steve Hatfield-Dodds, a spokesman for the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), said the government's official forecaster had revised its expectations down, citing poor rainfall as the reason.

"We expect 2018-19 winter crop production to be around 15 percent lower than our September forecast of 33.2 million tonnes," Hatfield-Dodds told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Importing grain is seen as a last resort in Australia because of the bio-security risk doing so poses.

One of the risks associated with importing grain is plant disease karnal bunt, which Plant Health Australia estimated would restrict Australia's agriculture exports to 45 countries if it was established in Australia.

"Our concerns are really around the potential for weed seeds and fungal disease to be brought in on the grain, that's our clear outlier that we're concerned about," Grain Producers Australia Chairman Andrew Weidmann said. 

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