Beef Lead The Agri-Food Export Stampede
The booming food and agricultural sector continues to gain momentum, with a new report from the Rural Bank showing the value of Australian agri-food exports in the past year has climbed to $46 billion.
For the first time, beef and live cattle exports have overtaken grains, legumes and other edible crops, with cattle and beef exports worth $11.4bn in 2015-16 and crop products $10.2bn.
The growth in the importance of rural produce to the Australian economy continued despite widespread drought hitting cotton exports by 26 per cent, wool exports by 9 per cent and beef export volumes by 13 per cent.
The shining star in rural export growth was the horticultural sector, which soared 30 per cent by value of exports to $2.1bn in 2015-16.
Nuts remain Australia’s brightest and biggest horticultural export commodity, led by the almond industry which has experienced astounding 337 per cent growth in the past five years.
Table grape exports were also strong, growing 55 per cent in value, mainly due to a boom in demand from China, which imported $102 million of Australian table grapes last year compared to just $15m of grapes in 2014-15.
Other top performing exports were the wine sector, which showed 10 per cent growth by value to be worth $2.2bn in the past financial year; seafood which jumped 10 per cent in export value to $1.4bn, and prepared foods, such as malts, pet food, baked goods and processed cereals, which increased 42 per cent by value to $3.4bn.
Victoria held its place as the most important producer of high-value agricultural and food commodities for export, exporting 28 per cent or $12.9bn of Australian produce last year, despite being only 3 per cent of land mass by area.
It was followed in significance by Queensland (22 per cent of rural exports), NSW (18 per cent) and WA (16 per cent).
NSW also recorded the biggest jump in the value of its exports overall, largely driven by the boom in the sale of high-value chickpeas grown in its north and central cropping belt to India.
But not all industries experienced buoyant conditions.
The value of national dairy exports slumped nearly 6 per cent to $2.3bn, reflecting the crash in global commodity prices, surplus milk products around the world and falling local farm milk production in the face of the Murray Goulburn crisis and falling farmgate milk prices.
The Rural Bank’s first Australian agri-food trade report also found that, while the value of agri-food exports had risen by 1.5 per cent in 2015-16, food imports also increased by 10 per cent in the same period, reaching almost $18bn in value.
The reports highlights that 39 per cent of all Australian agri-food products are exported to just three countries — China, the US and Japan. South Korea held its place as the fifth largest consumer of Australian food exports largely due to demand for beef.
Andrew Smith, general manager agribusiness for the Rural Bank — a subsidiary of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank — said the growth in food exports despite challenging climatic conditions demonstrated the Asian food boom was already having an impact, with even brighter prospects ahead. “There remain further opportunities in Asia outside our major trading partners in Japan and China; Indonesia, Vietnam and India all have huge populations,” Mr Smith said.