Australia’s sorghum shipments will set a record high by even more than had been expected, boosted by “strong” demand from China’s burgeoning pig herd, and weakened competition from the US, which recorded its lowest yield in 58 years.

Australia will export 2.04m tonnes of sorghum in 2022-23, as actually starts in March next year, official agriculture bureau Abares said, lifting its forecast by 151,000 tonnes.

The upgrade took the forecast even further above the current record of 1.64m tonnes, set in 2015-16, and reflected demand rather than production considerations.

Abares – while keeping at 2.73m tonnes its forecast for domestic sorghum production in 2022-23, the second biggest harvest on record – flagged “strong” prospects for demand from China, Australia’s top export market for the grain.

Lowest yield in 58 years

“Chinese consumption of feed grains is forecast to increase in 2022-23, reflecting rising pig herd numbers,” Abares said.

Demand for Australian sorghum would be “supported by tight domestic [Chinese] feed grain supply and reduced global sorghum production”.

Indeed, output in the US, typically the biggest origin for Chinese sorghum imports, tumbled to an 11-year low of 5.99m tonnes this year – thanks to dryness in its core growing area which cut the yield to the lowest since 1964-65.

“Severe summer drought across the US Great Plains weighed heavily on yield potential from Nebraska to Texas,” the US Department of Agriculture said last month.

US sorghum export commitments, ie completed shipments and unfulfilled orders combined, have plunged by 91% to 357,000 tonnes so far in 2022-23, on a September-to-August basis, USDA data show.

Commitments to China, at 118,700 tonnes, are down by 96%.

‘Disrupted grain exports’

Meanwhile, world supplies of corn, the more popular feed grain, have been crimped by the war in Ukraine, a major exporter to China, as well as some disappointment at the US harvest.

China’s corn imports “are lower, leading to a forecast drawdown of stocks,” Abares said, attributing the decline “to reduced world corn production and disrupted grain exports from Ukraine”.

These factors are “expected to lead to stronger demand for Australian sorghum exports”.

‘High soil moisture levels’

Abares termed Australia’s own sorghum production prospects “favourable”, after the heavy rains which have boosted winter crop yields too, if causing some crop losses to flooding.

Indeed, such precipitation is common in eastern Australia periods of a La Nina weather pattern – which tends to bring dryness to the US southern Plains.

“Above-average spring rainfall will provide high soil moisture levels that are expected to support [sorghum] crops through the start of the summer cropping season,” the bureau said.

“Area expansion is expected in parts of northern New South Wales and Queensland, particularly in areas that were too wet to plant winter crops.”