Alberta's feed barley prices moderate due to global crop surplus and changing trade dynamics
By Jean-Paul McDonald
Photo Credit: Pexels - pexels-pixabay
"Barley is the feed grain of choice for most Alberta cattle feeders," says Neil Blue, provincial crops market analyst with the Alberta government. He explains that while other feed grains are used, barley remains a key ingredient in cattle finishing rations, also feeding significant volumes to other animals.
Barley prices reached record highs in June 2022 following the 2021 drought but have fluctuated. Improved growing conditions in 2022 led to a retreat, but they rose again due to early and cold winter conditions. Despite dry conditions in Alberta, B.C., and Saskatchewan, feed barley prices have been downward.
Blue attributes this price moderation to several factors. In recent years, with barley in short supply and high prices, livestock feeders sought lower-cost alternatives. Milling wheat, oats, and imported U.S. corn, particularly in the Lethbridge area, have been used to substitute barley in rations.
The global grain market has also influenced barley prices. In 2022, Australia produced a record grain crop. Subsequently, in 2023, China relaxed its restrictive import tariffs against Australian products, which had been in place since the early Covid period in 2020. This shift impacted Canadian barley exports, with totals up to early November 2023 being only 592,000 tonnes, compared to 816,000 tonnes at the same time last year, and 970,000 tonnes in November 2021.
Barley prices in Canada are gaining momentum despite challenges such as reduced acreage and moisture shortages. Statistics Canada estimates an average yield of 55 bushels/acre, down from 70 bushels/acre in 2023. Post-harvest yields were better than mid-summer expectations.
Hay shortage may necessitate straw-grain rations, with barley as a key concentrate. Competitive barley prices could boost exports, and demand for malting barley remains strong, indicating a potential improvement in the crop year.
Blue highlights the impact of imported U.S. corn on feed barley prices, suggesting that some feeders prefer barley even at a premium price. He advises understanding the product, considering cash flow needs, monitoring market conditions, and shopping for the best farm gate price.