February 14, 2017 / 8:02 AM / a year ago

Australia's January grain exports jump to record of more than 4 mln T - traders

* Wheat, barley, canola exports all surging - traders

* India buying wheat, Saudi Arabia takes barley

* Record wheat, barley crops; 2nd-largest canola harvest

By Naveen Thukral and Colin Packham

SINGAPORE/SYDNEY, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Australian grain exports likely surged to an all-time monthly high of more than 4 million tonnes last month, smashing the previous record by a third on strong demand from Saudi Arabia, China and India and lower prices amid a bumper crop.

Exports hit 4.0-4.3 million tonnes in January compared with 3 million tonnes sold in first month of 2012, according to estimates from grain traders and analysts surveyed by Reuters. The estimated jump comes as Australia churns out more wheat and barley than ever before on near-perfect growing conditions.

On the back of a domestic output shortfall, India’s wheat imports largest have jumped to their highest in a decade, created additional demand for Australian crops. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia and China are snapping up products such as barley and canola, traders said.

“We had a record wheat crop but demand is also very strong this year,” said Ole Houe, analyst with brokerage IKON Commodities in Sydney. “India needs more wheat (for human consumption) and Saudi Arabia is taking barley to feed camels.”

The Australian Bureau of Agriculture, Resource Economics and Rural Sciences said on Tuesday the country produced 35.13 million tonnes of wheat in the 2016/17 season - around 18 percent more than the previous record of 29.6 million tonnes set in 2011/12. The agency didn’t publish export numbers.

The country also produced all-time high barley crop of 13.4 million tonnes. Canola output of 4.1 million tonnes was second largest in the history, according to official data.

India has bought more than 5 million tonnes of wheat since mid-2016, already its biggest annual purchase in a decade, after it began an import campaign to meet a supply shortfall left by two years of lower domestic production.

“The last two weeks of low wheat prices have meant that Australian wheat export sales have exploded,” said one Sydney-based trader.

He estimated Australia has sold more than 8.2 million tonnes of wheat since the new marketing year began in October. The country is forecast by traders to export some 22-25 million tonnes in the year to September 2017.

In addition to new sources of demand, Australia’s key wheat customer Indonesia also continues to bolster purchases. The country emerged as the world’s second-largest wheat importer two years ago with rapidly growing demand.

Australian Standard Wheat was sold into Asia in January at around $195 a tonne, including cost and freight, compared with $200 a tonne for a similar variety from the Black Sea region. U.S. soft white wheat was quoted at $205 a tonne, according to traders.

Benchmark Chicago Board of Trade wheat futures climbed 4.4 percent last week after the U.S. Department of Agriculture cut its estimates for global surplus with lower output in India and Kazakhstan.

For barley, the country has sold 3.3 million tonnes for the first five months of the marketing year ended September, said Andrew Woodhouse, grains analyst at Advance Trading Australasia.

Meanwhile canola sales in the October-April shipment period are expected by traders to hit 2 million tonnes.

Reporting by Naveen Thukral in SINGAPORE and Colin Packham in SYDNEY; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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