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Feed barley seen staying home, exports unlikely

(Resource News International) — Canada is not expected to be a major feed barley exporter this year, as domestic prices should remain more attractive to farmers, according to market sources.

While feed barley prices in Western Canada continue to weaken and have more room to the downside, international prices are considerably lower, which should keep Canada out of the export market going forward.

Spot feed barley bids in the key Lethbridge, Alta. market are currently sitting around $155 per tonne, which compares with prices near $190 per tonne a month ago, according to provincial Alberta Grain Commission data.

While domestic barley prices have dropped, Neil Slingerland, president of Newco Commodities Ltd. at Coaldale, Alta., east of Lethbridge, thought domestic barley prices would need to drop another $30 to $40 per tonne before they were in the export range.

“The domestic market is still substantially stronger than the export market, which means we will have a very, very small export program,” said Lorelle Selinger, barley marketing manager with the Canadian Wheat Board.

Larger production in Europe and the Black Sea region will keep export prices low, she said. In addition, late rains in Australia have caused some downgrading in that country’s malt barley crop, which will mean more feed barley than originally anticipated.

Canada had a large barley crop itself in 2008, and domestic prices are pointed lower as well, according to both Slingerland and Selinger.

Canada produced 11.781 million tonnes of barley in 2008, according to the latest Statistics Canada data, up from 10.984 million tonnes the previous year. Of that total, an estimated four million tonnes could be selectable as malt barley, said Selinger, although the actual malt barley program is unlikely to be that large.

Selinger said the large Canadian barley supplies will allow maltsters to be pickier when it comes to quality. She expected farmer deliveries into the domestic feed market would pick up as they realize that it may be harder to achieve malt quality this year.

Slingerland said a lack of demand from the Alberta cattle feeding sector was also weighing on domestic prices. Mild weather conditions this winter have reduced some of the feed demand, he said, with many feedlots likely covered until February “before the barley they’ve already purchased is eaten up.”

Cattle were also gaining weight faster than normal due to the milder temperatures, he said.

While Canadian feed barley is unlikely to find a home in the lower-priced international markets this year, Slingerland pointed out that domestic prices still make feeding barley more cost-effective than bringing in U.S. corn.

Corn was landing into the Lethbridge area at about C$200 per tonne, he said, more than $40 per tonne above barley.

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