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ABS to determine size of grain stocks

Published on 31 October, 2006, Last updated at 11:26 GMT


Australia will get its first official estimate of how much grain it has in storage as the government considers allowing imports to ease a likely drought shortage.

The size of grain stocks in silos around the country is commercially sensitive and not made public by grain handlers.

But the government's commodities forecaster, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE), revealed the commonwealth statistician was about collect the first data on the nation's grain stocks.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is about to begin surveying grain handlers including monopoly exporter AWB, South Australia's ABB, NSW-based GrainCorp and Western Australia's CBH.

ABARE's chief commodity analyst, Terry Sheales, said the survey would not identify which grain was held by which company, but would provide a picture of the national supply.

"We don't have a clear idea (at the moment) because that information is not made available," he told a Senate estimates committee.

"We've got nothing we can hang a hat on, so to speak."

Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran last week said his department was assessing almost 40 applications from commercial operators to import wheat, maize and sorghum to identify potential stockfeed supplies for farmers facing shortages due to the drought.

The applications relate to bulk grain for stockfeed from various countries including the United States, Britain, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, China and Ukraine.

Australia last imported bulk shipments of grain for stockfeed in 2003, with around 50,000 tonnes of maize brought from the United States and 270,000 tonnes of wheat from Britain.

The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service told the Senate committee that the applications for grain imports included 17 for wheat, 14 for maize and seven for sorghum.

ABARE is forecasting this year's wheat crop to be 9.5 million tonnes, down from 25 million tonnes last season and the lowest in more than a decade.

But Mr Sheales said last year's harvest - the second highest on record - would give AWB a carryover of almost 10 million tonnes, indicating that may ease some supply problems in the coming year.

AWB exported about 15 million tonnes of wheat from last year's crop, he said.


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