26 August 1997
El Niño may force Australia to import grain

By Boyd Champness

THE Australian government is considering importing feed grain. This follows calls from the livestock industry, concerned about dwindling supplies due to drought.

Australia, usually a mass exporter of grain for both human and animal consumption, is suffering at the hands of the drought-inducing El Niño weather pattern. The Australian Wheat Board estimates a 1997/98 wheat crop of 14-15 million tonnes. In the past, Australia has produced crops of up to 26mt of wheat.

The Cattle Council of Australia has called on the government to develop a set of protocols for feed grain imports should the drought worsen.

But the Grains Council of Australia (GCA) has refuted the call, saying feed grain supplies are in no danger of expiring and that the livestock industrys only reason for wanting imports was to drive prices down.

GCA acting president John Lush said Australia produced only 9mt of wheat in 1994/95 and that the livestock industry managed to cope despite the reduced supplies.

The GCA maintains that grain imports will bring with them unwanted pests, insects and foreign cereal diseases which are not found in Australia. However, a report released by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) says that grain imports could be possible as long as inspections are stepped up.

The Australian government has entered the argument, saying if Australia wants to export more food then its going to have to look at relaxing its import rules. Australia currently exports four times more food than it imports.