THE OLD adage that big crops keep getting bigger has been borne out spectacularly with the release of the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) post-harvest crop estimates.
ABARES revised its figure for the 2016-17 winter crop upwards by 12 per cent, culminating in a dizzying final figure of 58.87 million tonnes.
Incredibly, this tops Australia’s previous largest ever crop, of 45.67mt, recorded in 2011-12 by a barely believable 28.9pc.
Records were smashed for wheat, barley and chickpea production, while canola tonnages equalled the previous high.
Equally, the tonnages had been spread out equally geographically, with ABARES reporting all mainland states achieved record highs.
The result represents a 49pc year on year increase in production.
Acting ABARES Executive Director, Peter Gooday said the season was unprecedented.
“Yields were higher than anticipated and reached previously unseen levels in most regions,” Mr Gooday said.
For the major winter crops, wheat production rose by 45pc to 35.1mt, barley production was up 56pc to 13.4mt and canola went up 41pc to equal the record high of 4.1mt achieved in 2012–13 while the chickpea boom saw a final crop up 40pc year on year to 1.4mt in spite of washed out crops in central NSW.
Last week Rural Bank released a set of slightly more conservative numbers, pegging the crop at 53mt.
Andrew Smith, general manager of agribusiness for Rural Bank and Rural Finance, said the wet conditions throughout winter and spring had been a game changer for Australia’s crop farmers.
“Good weather conditions for the rest of the year have meant that our crop farmers are experiencing record yields,” he said.
“The season has exceeded all expectations.”
He said while cereal prices were in the doldrums, in many cases the sheer size of the crop meant farmers were happy with the result financially.
“The yields have been big enough in a lot of cases to help farmers deal with the lower than average prices.”
He said Victoria had experienced a particularly big turnaround.
“Following a disappointing 2015-16, production in Victoria was up 79pc year on year and 42pc on the five year average.
“The results were not as pronounced in the other states but everywhere was well up on averages.”
Incredibly, Mr Smith said the crop could have been larger.
“There could well have been some growers with limited cash reserves following consecutive droughts in the south-east that did not put out the inputs to really push yield up.”
He said moving forward, farmers with unpriced grain would likely have to continue to contend with the low prices on offer at present.
“Australia was not on its own in having a big year and there is a lot of grain globally,” he said.
“With Australian production now known, all eyes will be firmly fixed on the performance outlook for the northern hemisphere grain and oilseed markets, as this will greatly affect market activity over the next few months,” he said.
In terms of the upcoming winter crop plant, he said farmers who had received a welcome cash injection from this year’s strong results were approaching the year with confidence.
“We are hearing people are looking at investing in new machinery, there have been enquiries regarding equipment finance.”
“Last year’s crops did not use up all the moisture in the soil profile so that is another factor giving growers confidence leading into planting.”