IT WAS a record season for wheat exports last season, writes PETER HEMPHILL
Australia shipped a record 24.1 million tonnes of wheat to virtually all corners of the globe last season.
Consecutive wheat crops of 27.4 million tonnes in 2010-11 and 29.5 million tonnes in 2011-12 pushed exporters into a big shipment program for the 12 months to September 30 this year.
According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 21.5 million tonnes of wheat was exported in bulk, 2.6 million tonnes in containers and 40,000 tonnes in bags at an average value of $260 a tonne.
Last season's export program was 30 per cent larger than the 18.5 million tonnes shipped in 2010-11 and 27 per cent higher than the previous record of 19 million tonnes set in 1996-97.
The grain was imported by 50 countries from five continents if Puerto Rico is considered part of North America.
Australian wheat has now been exported to every continent (except Antarctica) during the past five years.
Last season's record exports is put into perspective by Wheat Exports Australia and signals another big export challenge in the coming year.
"Over the past 10 years, Australian wheat production has averaged 20.7 million tonnes while total exports have averaged 14.5 million tonnes to 48 countries," the WEA said in its last Report for Growers.
"Despite record wheat production in 2011-12, the record exports reduced carryover by 1.2 million tonnes, from 8.3 million tonnes (at September 30, 2011) to 7.1 million tonnes (at September 30, 2012)."
Asia continues to be Australia's largest export destination, with just over 18 million tonnes of the crop ending up there in 2011-12
Nearly 2.9 million tonnes went to the Middle East, while just under two million tonnes was exported to African nations.
New buyers of Australian wheat during the past year were Georgia, Congo and the US territories of Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands.
Indonesia was the biggest importer, taking 4.3 million tonnes - the first country to buy more than four million tonnes in a single season.
Factors contributing to the record wheat export program in 2011-12 included the second big harvest in a row, a carryover of 8.3 million tonnes from the previous season and efficiencies in the transport sector.
GrainCorp storage and logistics group general manager Nigel Hart said wheat exports were helped by more trains being brought into service and a new system of time slotting for road trucks transporting grain to port.
"In the prior year, we were running 14 trains in total," he said. "During the past year, we had 21 trains operating."
Mr Hart said the rail system was operating more efficiently.
In the past, train sets were carrying 150,000 tonnes of grain to port each year, but that had now risen to 240,000 tonnes a year.
Mr Hart said GrainCorp had introduced a timeslot system for trucks delivering to port.
In previous years, a logjam of trucks in the morning meant many drivers had to wait three to four hours to deliver their grain loads.