Rising tide of milk weighs on sentiment – Rabobank’s latest dairy outlook

The “rising tide of milk” has seen sentiment in the global dairy industry begin to wane, as growth in exportable surpluses across key milk-producing regions gains momentum, according to Rabobank’s latest Dairy Quarterly report.

The report says the global market will “confront a wave of exportable surplus” in coming months, estimated to be 3.2 billion litres higher year-on-year (in liquid milk equivalents) for the six month period October 2017 to March 2018. 

“The recent growth in global milk supply, which peaked in the last quarter of 2017 with the Oceania spring peak and a return to growth in Europe, is taking its toll on global commodity prices,” says Rabobank senior dairy analyst Michael Harvey.

Mr Harvey says “supply growth is emerging as the biggest risk for global dairy markets”, with the entire dairy complex witnessing weakness.

“Even butterfat prices, which had been defying gravity, have fallen in recent months,” he says, “however the low stocks of butter and robust demand are expected to support prices well above the five-year average.

“Meanwhile skim milk prices remain depressed, with the closure of the European intervention scheme removing the floor and allowing prices to soften further.”

While there is no immediate end in sight for weak skim milk powder prices, which have dragged the whole milk price lower, Mr Harvey says the global cheese market has “fared best” with the buoyant importing of cheese in countries like Japan and China providing support.

Mr Harvey says with pressure expected to build on global commodity prices, the first signs of weaker milk prices (in local currency) have emerged in a number of export regions.

“In Australia, the downward pressure on global prices, together with a stronger currency, has seen Rabobank revise its full-year milk price in southern export regions for 2017/18 to AUD 5.50/kgMS, down AUD 0.20/kgMS on previous forecasts – but excluding any supplementary payments and market premiums,” he says.

While the growth in global exportable surpluses is likely to place pressure on the global dairy complex through to the middle of 2018, Mr Harvey says “exportable surpluses are not expected to completely overwhelm global markets, helped by strategies to limit supply growth from processors”.

“China will also play a key role in ensuring global markets remain ‘fairly balanced’, with their import purchasing demand, assisted by lower-than-expected milk supply and some improvements in demand, expected to remain active throughout 2018,” he says.

Mr Harvey says there is unlikely to be a smooth recalibration of the dairy complex, however Rabobank is forecasting a gradual tightening of exportable supplies through the second half of 2018.

“Much will hinge on production trends in Europe, and while supply growth is set to continue, an easing of milk prices and efforts to contain supply growth in some regions is likely to constrain growth,” he says.

Dairy policy interventions in the EU will be a key ‘watch factor’ in 2018, Mr Harvey says, as well as the risk of a US exit from NAFTA, and geopolitical tensions – all of which could create volatility in global dairy markets.

Australian Outlook

Mr Harvey says improving milk prices and favourable seasonal conditions are starting to flow into a recovery in Australian production and exports, with national milk production forecast to increase by 2.7 per cent in the 2017/18 season.

“With most of the growth coming from the southern export regions, particularly Victoria, the good reserve of high-quality fodder, good soil moisture and high water entitlement for irrigators is boding well for a strong shoulder and solid finish to the season,” he says.

Mr Harvey says Australia’s exportable surplus has contracted significantly over the past 18 months, and “it is only now that the benefit of improving milk supply will start to drive a recovery in exportable surpluses”.

“In export markets, while demand growth is starting to moderate following a period of robust growth, dairy demand in emerging economies appears to be strong, with robust import purchasing in key deficit regions, including South-East Asia,” he says.


Rabobank Australia & New Zealand is a part of the global Rabobank Group, the world’s leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has nearly 120 years’ experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 40 countries, servicing the needs of approximately 8.6 million clients worldwide through a network of more than 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank Australia & New Zealand is one of Australasia’s leading agricultural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to the region’s food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 94 branches throughout Australia and New Zealand.

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Denise Shaw
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Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: 02 8115 2744 or 0439 603 525 
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Skye Ward
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Rabobank Australia
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Email: skye.ward@rabobank.com