The national commodities forecaster has slashed another nine per cent from from its expectations of this year’s winter grain crop harvest as eastern Australia’s dry winter-spring season turns nastier.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) is tipping a 36.3 million tonne crop in the wake of generally “unfavourable” weather conditions in the past four months.
With an early harvest now underway in Central Queensland, the latest forecast cuts the size of this year’s likely grain crop by almost 40pc, when compared with the record 2016-17 harvest.
In fact, given ABARE’s data was based on early spring surveys, yield prospects could fall even further in the wake of significant frost damage in eastern Australia in the past fortnight.
North West NSW, South West Queensland and northern West Australia would see many crops not harvested at all, given their current poor state, ABARES said.
For the three major winter crops, wheat production is forecast to fall 38pc to 21.6m tonnes, barley by 40pc to 8m tonnes and canola will be down a third to 2.8m tonnes.
The sober outlook for canola and wheat suggest harvest volumes at seven- to nine-year lows.
“Our forecasts will only be achieved if spring rainfall is sufficient and timely, especially in Central West NSW and South Australia’s Eyre and Yorke peninsulas,” said ABARES’ chief commodity analyst, Peter Gooday.
Summer crop hopes
ABARES is also pinning its hopes on favourable spring rain to drive an 8pc summer crop area increase in Queensland to 714,000 hectares, producing a 33pc yield lift of almost 2m tonnes.
Assuming average seasonal conditions in summer, ABARES is looking for a 77pc increase in Queensland’s sorghum crop to about 1.2m tonnes, and a 162,000ha crop of mostly irrigated cotton.
NSW’s sorghum crop could be about average at 195,000ha, with cotton area down 18pc to 268,000ha as more (bigger yielding) irrigated country is planted this summer at the expense of dryland crop.
Mr Gooday said this year’s “unfavourable conditions in many key cropping regions” had started with “well below” average rainfall in most cropping regions in June and “highly variable” moisture conditions in July and August.
While grain production was still expected to be marginally above the 10-year average, it was a big fall from last season’s bumper 60m tonne harvest.
He said crops were generally in good condition at the start of spring in Victoria, eastern South Australia, southern Western Australia and southern and eastern NSW.
However, the health of crops Australia-wide had varied significantly.
Optimistically, he noted the latest three-month rainfall outlook from the Bureau of Meteorology still anticipated spring rainfall as “likely be around average in most cropping regions”.
ABARES Australian Crop Report said chances of rainfall exceeding the median for parts of north east and south eastern NSW were above average in spring, but average in the cropping regions.
The outlook for other popular crops has chickpea production is forecast to fall by 36pc to 1.2m tonnes and oats down 45pc to 1m tonnes.