Asian buyers lift demand for maize

Man in a hat by a field

NSW grower Bernie Walsh from Yanco sees a bright future in supplying maize to premium Asian markets, partly because Australia’s non-GM maize has a market advantage over GM maize grown around the world.

 PHOTO: Clarisa Collis

Twelve months ago Bernie Walsh watched about 3000 megalitres of water flow through his maize crop as the flooding that covered most of NSW inundated Yanco and the surrounding region. He feared a crop wipeout, but when he was finally able to walk his paddocks he was amazed to find the crop still standing. While some of the varieties were only suitable for silage by the time he was able to get his harvester in, he was still able to strip his gritting corn.

Bernie has always grown maize, along with seed lucerne, seed wheat and barley, and smaller quantities of rice, sunflowers, soybeans and mungbeans. However, there are incompatibilities growing irrigated rice and maize together. The fertiliser and herbicide inputs for maize are unsuitable for rice and vice versa, making it difficult to recycle water. Also harvesting times for the two crops clash.

Due to the growing export opportunities for maize, Bernie has opted to streamline his business and focus on maize. This year he has 100 hectares of high-amylose maize, 100ha of waxy and 40ha of white maize in the ground, plus 94ha of soybeans.

“Maize has a major place in my operation because it’s reasonably water efficient, easy to grow and it gives good volume. A lot of product comes off and it’s a major world grain,” Bernie says.

This summer was a completely different season to last year – very dry and hot – and his maize is looking good prior to the April harvest, although the January heatwave was a concern. “One of the varieties was pollinating in the heat, which was not good,” he says. “But afterwards the heat didn’t seem to have affected us too badly.”

Although most of his 2013 maize harvest is contracted to a domestic buyer, Bernie sees a big future in supplying premium Asian markets. He says Australia’s non-GM maize has a market advantage over corn from the US, South America and Europe. Australian maize commands a premium of $20 to $30 a tonne over global GM maize, and this has been as high as $60.

As a grower and an executive with the Maize Association of Australia, Bernie and four other growers, along with representatives from Lachlan Commodities, Pacific Seeds and the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (now the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry), took part in a GRDC-funded tour in 2011 to meet current and potential customers in Japan and Korea. He has also hosted visitors from Japan on his property, giving his customers the opportunity to experience a part of the supply chain they would never ordinarily see.

“The Japanese buyers are really keen,” Bernie says. “We have had two groups come to our farm. I don’t think it’s going to be a pot of gold but [the Japanese demand] will put a real floor in the market. Like anything else, it will be a volume thing. The margin will be small but the dollars will be there on volume.”

It is the export volume of maize that is increasing rapidly, in spite of the high Australian dollar. Andrew Cogswell from Lachlan Commodities says that last financial year they shipped 10,000t of maize out of Brisbane. This year, reflecting the increasing trade, Lachlan Commodities’ purchasing is up to 45,000t of maize and the company is using bulk vessels out of both Brisbane and Geelong, Victoria.

Lachlan Commodities says it has gained new customers in Korea, but most of the increasing demand is coming from Japan, where all Australian maize is used for human consumption. Maize in Japan is either wet-milled, producing starches to be further modified into high-fructose corn syrup and pharmaceutical products, or dry-milled, producing corn grits for snack foods and brewing.

“Developing relationships with our Japanese and Korean customers so everyone understands the whole supply chain has been the key to the rapid market growth,” Mr Cogswell says.

“Now we’re also trying to develop a larger grower base.” Mr Cogswell believes there is enough demand building for the Australian maize crop to reach one million tonnes.

Back on the farm, Bernie has recently installed two Twister aerated silos, which can each hold 930t. Because of the low moisture levels required, aerated storage for maize is critical. He says that the ability to control quality, getting paid by the buyer for storage and being able to take advantage of back loads to Sydney make the silos a sound investment. Consistently producing export-quality maize in the southern grains region is an option only for irrigators because, at about 9mL/ha, it is a thirsty crop.

“Dry area corn would not really suit the export market because it has to be uniform quality and size, and that’s hard to guarantee in a dry area,” Bernie says. After years of drought, then flood, and trying different crops and cropping rotations, Bernie feels maize is the best option for his circumstances.

More information:

Bernie Walsh,
0427 478 227,

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Region National, Overseas, North