Australian cotton growers are expected to be $20 million out of pocket with a Chinese-based trading company going into administration.

Weilin Trade Pty Ltd has been operating in Australia since 2012, buying and exporting cotton to China.

It also owns an 8,800-hectare irrigated cotton farm near Coleambally in New South Wales.

Michael O’Reilly, chairman of the Australian Cotton Shippers Association, said the news was a blow.

“The situation isn’t good,” he said.

“The Weilin situation has certainly devalued Australian cotton and millions of dollars have been lost.

“Some of this is contracts from the growers that they had with Weilin and then what the grower thought they were going to be paid, or promised, they’re simply not going to get.”

Smallest crop in 40 years

Mr O’Reilly said Weilin were “quite aggressive” about what they wanted to buy.

“They had a large appetite for the 2020 crop that we’ve got here now and, to a large extent, quite aggressive about the 2021 crop,” he said.

“Maybe 40 per cent of the Australian crop this year was promised to Weilin and that is the smallest crop in 40 years.

“Some of the contracts that the growers had with Weilin were large contracts.

“All other merchants are honouring their contracts and growers are getting paid, and it’s just a shame that these guys haven’t done the same.

“The bigger picture is that this has certainly devalued Australian cotton, when you’ve now got administrator fire sales within the supply chain of Weilin bales.”

Mr O’Reilly said, as a result, there had been a 300 to 400-point drop in the value of Australian cotton over the past few weeks.

“Before all this happened, growers were getting around $650 a bale and now we’re down to under $500,” he said.

“It’s not good for our industry here in Australia, not good for the growers, not good for the merchants.”

Growers getting burnt

Central Queensland cotton grower Greg Hutchinson is one of more than 100 Australian farmers who were banking on payment from Weilin Trade Pty Ltd.

“We’d sold a proportion of a crop to them both this year and next year at a better price than what a lot of other merchants were offering,” Mr Hutchinson said.

“It’s certainly a dampener to the season. We were lucky to have a really good season up here but it took the cream off the icing off the cake.”

He said he first heard rumours Weilin would not be able to pay out the contracts in June, which prompted him to act quickly to redirect the cotton elsewhere.

“I think they didn’t know what they wanted to do or what they could do so they weren’t willing to let you wash out those bales until the voluntary administration was called in,” Mr Hutchinson said.

While he was able to sell the cotton on to another merchant, like many other growers across the country, he had to do so at a reduced cost.

“Pre COVID, cotton pricing in Australia was up to $650/bale … and now the price is sub 500 so that’s the difference,” he said.

“Prices are now $460 or $470 for the 2020 crop so you’re looking at $160 bale that growers potentially could have lost if they hadn’t done anything sooner.”

Mr Hutchinson said, despite the recent setback, having smaller cotton merchants in the market was vital for a competitive industry.

“Smaller counterparties quite often pay a better price than the big guys so you can afford to sell some bales to them every year and it’s been good to keep the big guys honest,” he said.

“It’s healthy for any industry to have quite a few merchant counterparties. Only problem is in this instance with Weilin it is probably going to have a fairly strong impact on the merchant-to-merchant trading and the grower trading to those counterparties.”

Ag minister says Federal Government cannot help

Federal Agricultural Minister David Littleproud said he met with the merchant industry to be briefed on the financial losses of growers who had contracted cotton to Weilin Trading.

Mr Littleproud said the long-term effects were yet to be seen.

“We estimate it will cost producers around $20 million. That’s going to impact on the current price, but it will come back,” he said.

“But where the price is at the moment, it is higher than what we have experienced in the past.”

The Minister said, while he was concerned for growers who had already endured drought, there was little government would do.

“I’m going to be honest, the Federal Government will not be stepping in to compensate,” he said.

“Those are commercial arrangements that people undertook.”

The receiver, Vincent Accounting, has been contacted for comment.