32 – Follow the mouths? ― just head to the coast!

30 July, 2019

AEGIC’s very first blog (see https://www.aegic.org.au/follow-the-mouths/) suggested that if we want to understand the nature of future overseas grain demand, a good starting point is to “follow the mouths”. We suggested that answering the question “How many mouths will need to be fed in the future and where will they be located?” provides useful insights about the nature of future overseas grain demand.

The same applies to future grain demand within Australia. Where will be the sources of grain demand within Australia towards 2030? Australia’s population in late 2018 was 25.1 million but will reach 30 million between 2029 and 2033 (ABS, 2018 & 2019). Australia’s population growth is a function of fertility rates, net overseas migration and average life expectancy. By 2030 there is likely to be between 4.1 and 4.9 million additional people in Australia. Importantly, this population growth, when combined with the grain-based diets of most Australians (see https://www.grainsinnovation.org/blog/2019/6/24/the-meat-in-our-sandwich), means an increasing local demand for grains.

But where will these future consumers be located? Will they reside close to where grain is produced? The answer is resoundingly no! If we want to follow the mouths in Australia, we need to head to the coast (Fig 1) and especially the east coast.

Figure 1: Where do Australians reside? Use of light at night as an indicator of population density and location. (Source: Bin Xie & Yan Liu (2018) Visualizing Australia’s urban extent: a comparison between residential housing addresses and night-time light data. See https://doi.org/10.1080/21681376.2018.152664)

Although the continent of Australia is vast, more than 85% of all Australians live within 50 kilometres of its coast and 40% of Australians live in two coastal cities, Sydney and Melbourne. Almost 2/3 live in Australia’s coastal capital cities and almost 2/3 live on or near the east coast of Australia.

Despite its size, Australia remains one of the most urbanised nations in the world. Most of us live in cities and major towns dotted on or near the coast, especially the east coast. This means that grain port terminals are also located in these major cities or major coastal towns and so grain to be exported flows to these coastal outlets. It also means that products like chicken meat, eggs, milk, malt, pork, beef and lamb that depend on grains also need to flow to these coastal sources of food demand. Due to the degree of urbanisation in Australia, grain and grain-based products need to be transported through urban environments.

A key implication for Australia’s grains industry is that maintaining efficient transport corridors for rail and road, especially through urbanised areas, is essential if the costs of providing these goods to local and international consumers is to be contained. Making Australian grain and grain-based foods attractively priced for end users requires transport costs to be minimised.

As a nation, we talk about wildlife protection or border protection, but there is also a need for transport corridor protection, if local and international consumers of Australian grain and grain-based foods are to be better served.

ABS (2018) Population Projections, Australia. Available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/latestProducts/3222.0Media%20Release12017%20(base)%20-%202066

ABS (2019) Australia’s population growth remains steady. Available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/latestProducts/3101.0Media%20Release1Sep%202018

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