Barley market prospects

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Source: Government of Alberta

“The seasonal pattern of barley prices implies that there should have been a price recovery following harvest, but that has not been the case,” says Neil Blue, provincial crops market analyst with the Alberta government.

Figure 1. Seasonality of Alberta Feed Barley Prices

Blue line chart: Seasonality of Alberta Feed Barley Prices 2014-2023

Source: Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation

Since May 2020, Canada had been able to take advantage of an 80.5% tariff barrier that China had placed on Australian barley imports. This ramped up barley exports significantly in 2020. The 2022 pull-back in barley exports resulted from the reduced supply due to the 2021 drought.

Figure 2. Alberta Barley Exports

Blue bar graph: Alberta Barley Exports (tonnes)

Source: Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation

The tariff on Australian barley exports to China was dropped in August 2023, and Australian exports to China have resumed, outcompeting Canadian-sourced barley to that market. Canadian bulk barley exports this crop year to mid-January, as reported by the Canadian Grain Commission, are running near half of last year’s pace.

“During the period of strong barley exports, particularly to China, barley prices rose to record-high levels, supported by the combination of export and domestic demand. Faced with record-high feeding costs, feed users were forced by economics to seek and use alternative feedgrains, including wheat, oats, rye and corn. The logistics of importing corn, mainly by rail from the U.S., became well developed.”

The combination of contracted purchases of corn into the major cattle feeding area of southern Alberta and the reduction of export demand for feed barley has led to the drop in feed (and malt) barley prices during this crop year. Figure 3 shows the rise and recent erosion of barley prices, which are now approaching the 10-year average price of $270/tonne.

Figure 3. Lethbridge Feed Barley Price

Blue line chart with a straight orange horizontal line in the middle: Lethbridge Feed Barley $/tonne 2014-2023 average $270/T

Source: Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation

“Although some barley export demand has continued, particularly for malting barley, the outlook for barley prices is flat near these current price levels into spring, when northern hemisphere weather concerns may provide support for crop prices in general,” says Blue.

For more information, see:

Agricultural Marketing Guide