The Australian Wheat Industry

1. The Beginning
Wheat has been grown since the beginning of European settlement more than 200 years ago. The first crop was sown by convicts at a Government farm on a site now in the heart of Sydney, New South Wales (NSW). The farming environment proved too harsh for the new settlers, with infertile soil, plant diseases, low and unreliable rainfall, lack of farm implements, labour shortages, land clearing and imported seed developed for a different climate.

Australia's wheat output increased dramatically from 1830 to 1840 with the establishment of the states of Victoria (Vic), South Australia (SA) and Western Australia (WA). The expansion of production to the inland areas of NSW was also a particularly important step. This growth was aided by a gold rush in 1850 and later, the construction of inland railways. Australian wheat exports commenced in 1845 and have continued on a regular basis since 1870.

The development of wheat growing in Australia continued in subsequent decades, with the adoption of clover-ley farming, the introduction of mixed farming, the application of fertilizers and improvements in cultivation techniques. The introduction of bulk grain handling systems in the 1930s and 1940s and the widespread use of tractors on farms from the war years onwards were significant factors which helped to bring the industry to where it stands today.

The area planted to wheat has increased significantly in recent years, as has the average wheat yield per hectare. Over the past 20 years Australian wheat yields, on average, have risen by around 2.3% per year. Breeding high yielding, better quality and more disease resistant varieties of wheat and the development of agricultural products to combat weeds, pests and wheat diseases continue to have a major positive impact on productivity.

2. Today
Australia produces approximately 20 mio t of wheat a year, accounting for around 3% of annual world production. About 80% of our wheat is exported with a relatively small domestic demand. Australia is one of the top three exporting countries with consistently more than 15% share of the global wheat trade.

Wheat is a significant contributor to the Australian economy, generating more than AUD 4 billion (USD 3 billion) in export revenue annually. It is the largest enterprise in the Australian grain industry and amounts to around 90% of the total value of grain production. It accounts for 3% of the total value of Australia's exports and 16% of Australia's total farm exports.

The wheat industry is particularly important to rural communities. It is a major source of employment and income, with approximately 35,000 wheat farms, involving more than 150,000 farm family members throughout Australia.

3. AWB Limited (AWB) and the Australian Grain Industry
AWB is Australia's major national grain asset manager and one of the world's largest wheat managers and marketers. AWB evolved from the Australian Wheat Board, which was established in 1939, and operated as a government statutory marketing authority for 60 years. It is now a grower controlled, publicly listed company. AWB is the sole bulk exporter of Australian wheat and is responsible for marketing Australia's wheat crop around the world under legislation known as the Single Desk marketing system.

4. A Brief History
An overwhelming number of wheat growers fought for a long time to establish Single Desk marketing and implement a national wheat pooling system. This grew out of growers' concern that they had little or no control over the wheat market. They were susceptible to price and production instability, sensitive to rising costs and reliant on the middlemen – grain merchants.
1937 :
 • Wheat prices began a sharp decline
1939 :
• By mid year, prices fell to levels prevailing in 1931 and assistance to the wheat industry was urgent.
• The Australian Wheat Board was finally formed – initially under security legislation by the Commonwealth Government – as the Statutory Marketing Authority (SMA) for all wheat produced in Australia.
• This was organised in time to assist and allocate output and exports during World War II.
 • The commercial strength and stability of this arrangement was widely acknowledged and growers realized that they were much better off under the national pooling system, rather than the previous "free market" situation. This secured the future of the Australian Wheat Board after the war.
1989 :
 • The Government established the Wheat Industry Fund through compulsory levies on wheat sales. This fund was held and managed by the Australian Wheat Board.
1998 :
• The business activities of the Australian Wheat Board were corporatized and transferred to a new corporation, AWB Limited. The assets and liabilities of the statutory authority (other than the Wheat Industry Fund) were transferred to AWB.
1999 :
• Wheat Industry Fund is worth approximatelyAUD 600 million (USD 372 million).
• The Wheat Industry Fund was transferred to AWB and "B" class shares were issued to the holders of units in that fund. "A" class shares were issued to growers. By issuing A class and B class shares, AWB became a grower owned and controlled corporation.
2001 :
• B class shares were listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. This made shares available to financial institutions and retail investors in addition to wheat growers.

5. AWB Today
AWB continues as the sole exporter of bulk wheat from Australia and the major wheat manager on the deregulated domestic market. It continues to market wheat and other grains to more than 40 countries. AWB is actively involved in all facets of the grain value chain, from breeding through to end-use, wheat based consumer products. It researches and develops new wheat varieties for Australian farmers, shapes and tailors the national wheat crop to meet international customer requirements and provides finance and risk management for growers. AWB has strong presence in the bulk storage and handling market in eastern Australia, an expanding sea chartering business and is further developing its international milling and processing capability to secure end-user demand.

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