Australian wheat growers are divided over the imposition of further export regulations under the government’s new ‘mandatory code of conduct’ governing port access.
The code, unveiled by agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, on September 19, is designed to give all exporters ‘fair and transparent’ access to port services and will be monitored and enforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Under the new regulations, to take effect from October, terminal operators will have to reduce compliance requirements for exporters and adopt an unprejudiced system for allocating terminal capacity.
Australia’s ten grain port operators will have to pay annual regulation costs of A$340,000, although there are exemptions for co-operatives, like CBH, where members account for more than two-thirds of growers in the catchment area.
While New South Wales (NSW) Farmers Association supports the regulations, which it believes will help reduce the dominance of the large wheat exporters, growers in WA are concerned about the knock-on effects to their business and favour total deregulation.
Grain Trade Association chief executive officer (CEO), Geoff Honey, is in no doubt that the high regulatory costs will be passed on to grain growers.
"This will be another cost of doing business and add to the expenses incurred by port terminal operators and exporters, and that will be reflected in the price they pay for grain,” he said.
China easing pressure on aquifers
China is reducing crop irrigation in Hebei Province (the country’s third largest wheat growing region) to ease pressure on declining aquifers.
The province with cut wheat irrigation by 750,667 hectares, or 2% of the crop it planted last year, according to the regional government.
China is the world’s biggest consumer of wheat but this is the first time it has implemented measures that favour the environment over crop production.
“The country is well-supplied with grain this year and policy makers are more receptive toward importing it. China’s water crisis is recognized by the central leadership, which set this policy,” said Hu Bingchuan, a researcher at the state-funded Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Hebei Province will spend 1.2 billion yuan (US$195 million) to compensate farmers for the reduced yield and to promote water-conserving crops, according to Xinhua News Agency.
Farmers are also being encouraged to stop planting corn after wheat in the same year, and are only allowed to grow one crop annually to rest the land, it said.
Shake-up in EU wheat exports
Northern EU countries will snap up additional exports in 2014/15 from traditional French strongholds, such as Algeria, following poor harvests in the republic, say analysts.
Algeria accounted for nearly half of French wheat exports outside the EU in 2013/14, at 5.7 million tonnes, however a low Hagberg rating this season has ruled French wheat out of this market and exports outside the EU overall are expected to fall by a third to a seven-year low.
As a result, France may have to turn to other milling wheat destinations or fall back on feed-wheat markets, according to farm agency, AgriMer.
Germany is in a good position to win milling-wheat contracts with Algeria. Its high quality wheat usually attracts Middle Eastern markets but a drop in protein content (to 12%) is more aligned to Algerian standards, experts say.
Morocco is another market up for grabs and may also turn to Germany to boost its wheat quota, while a record harvest in Romania could augment exports to Egypt.
Sweden and Finland have harvested large, good-quality crops and the Baltic states are expected to remain exporters of high-quality wheat to the Middle East.
Cargill files lawsuit against Syngenta
Cargill is suing Syngenta Seeds for export losses accrued after buying genetically modified corn not approved by the Chinese government.
China is the third largest importer of US corn under normal trading conditions but shipments have virtually come to standstill over the last nine months since the GM corn was first detected by Chinese authorities, with estimated industry losses of US$2.9bn.
Cargill has now filed a lawsuit at the Louisiana state court seeking damages from the sale of Syngenta’s Agrisure Viptera (MIR 162) biotech strain.
Cargill Grain & Oilseed Supply Chain North America, president, Mark Stonacek said: “Syngenta has not practiced responsible stewardship by broadly commercializing a new product before receiving approval from a key export market like China. Syngenta also put the ability of US agriculture to serve global markets at risk, costing both Cargill and the entire US agricultural industry significant damages."
In response Syngenta said: "Syngenta believes that the lawsuit is without merit and strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies that can increase both their productivity and their profitability."
US approves resistant GM corn
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved the use of genetically modified (GM) corn seeds and soybeans resistant to a well-known weed killer.
However, farmers will not be able to plant the seeds until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a second ruling this autumn on Enlist, a new version of the 2.4-D weed killer from Dow AgroSciences.
Both approvals will offer welcome relief for the US agricultural industry as many weeds have become resistant to the glyphosate herbicide commonly used on corn and soybeans.
USDA said that once the seeds and herbicide are approved, the application of 2.4-D could increase by 200-600% by 2020, although this has raised concerns among critics about the risks to public health.
Groups lobbying the EPA are concerned about the toxic effects of the herbicide and the potential for it to drift, but the agency has already found the chemical in 2.4-D safe for the public and agricultural workers.
US worker fatally injured at grain mill
The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has fined South Dakota milling operator, Prairie Ag Partners, US$120,120 and has placed it under the Severe Violator Enforcement Programme, following the death of a 51-year old grain elevator worker at its plant in Lake Preston.
An OSHA inspection concluded that the worker became completely submerged in the grain bin while operating the equipment but paid with his life.
Prairie Ag Partners was subsequently cited for one "wilful", two repeat and eight serious safety violations after allowing employees inside the grain bin while the auger and conveyor systems were in operation.
It also cited other violations under the OSHA’s permit-required confined space regulations and grain handling standards.