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BUENOS AIRES/BEIJING: Argentina’s barley exports to China are set to soar to a record 1 million tonnes in 2021, industry sources and sales data show, as Beijing looks beyond its traditional top supplier Australia amid a lengthy diplomatic standoff between the two countries.

The sales bonanza, revealed by industry sources in Argentina and China, underscores how the South American grains powerhouse is plugging the supply gap that opened last year after diplomatic tensions led China to slap a 80.5% tariff on Australian barley.

Export declarations, filed to Argentina’s ministry of agriculture, show that already 1.1 million tonnes of barley has been sold year-to date, which traders said was almost all going to the world’s second-largest economy.

“This year it is clear that all Argentine barley exports are going to China,” said Agustin Baque, an international barley broker based in Argentina.

“I estimate that in the following months China will buy an additional 400,000 tonnes,” Baque added. Last year Argentina exported a then record 298,000 tonnes of feed barley to China.

Much of Argentina’s barley exports are being rerouted from Saudi Arabia, which uses the grain to feed camels and had been the main buyer until it started tapping into Australia’s glut of the grain.

China is importing huge volumes of grains to feed a pig herd that it is rebuilding after an African Swine Fever epidemic led to the culling of hundreds of millions of hogs. It is also looking to plug a domestic corn shortfall with other grains.

A China-based source close to the trade said that at least 900,000 tonnes of Argentina barley were expected to be exported to China in 2021, and the actual volume might be even higher.

“Barley exports from Argentina to China have soared, and are hitting record high levels,” said a second Chinese industry source briefed on the trade, adding that 500,000 tonnes of Argentina barley were scheduled for delivery to China in February-March.

“The main reason is still to plug the (supply) gap, left by the Australian barley situation. Also domestic corn prices are high and supplies are tight,” said the source, who asked not to be named as he was not permitted to speak to the media.

Other beneficiaries of China’s demand for barley include producers France, Canada and Ukraine.

Argentine barley is sown in June. Harvesting ends in January.

“China has bought three Panamax cargoes, 60,000 tonnes each, from Argentina for delivery in January 2022. It’s a very good signal for barley farmers because it shows that Chinese demand will be very active in the new season,” Baque said.

Eugenia Rul, head analyst at the Bahia Blanca grains exchange, agreed the outlook is positive, thanks in part to high international prices.

“We believe demand from China is likely to remain dynamic as long as the situation with Australia continues,” Rul said.

Baque said he expects Argentina will produce 4.2 million tonnes of barley in the 2021/22 season, up from 3.8 million tonnes in 2020/21.

Argentina growers may hold back wheat plantings this year in favor of barley, due to Chinese demand and possible state intervention in the wheat market, producers added.

Farmers were rattled recently when the government said it was considering a clamp down on wheat and corn exports as part of its effort to slow domestic food price inflation. The government ditched the plans following objections from growers.

“The idea of using barley as a hedge against uncertainty in the wheat market is being discussed, but we do not know how big the swing will be,” said David Hughes, a grower in the bread-basket province of Buenos Aires.