FROM chocolates to boiled lollies. It is a fair way to describe the massive year on year downturn in Australian grain production.
Already, many private analysts have flagged a wheat crop less than half of last year’s record 35.13 million tonne harvest and with frost and dryness issues emerging in previously secure crops in Victoria, the figure could come back further.
In reaction to the poor conditions ABARES, the national forecaster, has taken the unusual step of issuing a press release in between its crop reports to flag downside from its most recent estimates.
In its latest report in early September ABARES came up with an estimate of production of 21.6mt of wheat, however most analysts now believe a figure over 20mt would be a good result.
The next report is due out in early December.
The last time ABARES took the step of releasing a between report statement was way back in 2002 in the midst of a crippling drought.
While the 2017-18 season is not expected to be as severe as that, with ABARES reporting it was likely to be around the 10 year average up until 2015-16, there has been sufficient concern about a combination of heat, dryness and frost in NSW and Queensland in particular to see ABARES bring out the statement.
ABARES executive director Steve Hatfield-Dodds acknowledged the agency’s September crop forecast would now only be achieved if late spring rainfall was sufficient and timely.
Falls last week across the east coast and parts of South Australia have helped, but in the north it was too late for the bulk of the crops while in Victoria and SA tallies were useful but slightly under expectations.
Dr Hatfield-Dodds said ABARES would definitely downgrade its NSW forecast no matter what.
“Unfortunately, in NSW, crop conditions in the central west have deteriorated significantly and yields are likely to be well below our September forecast,” Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.
The September ABARES figure for NSW wheat, 6.34mt, was already the lowest in a decade.
Dr Hatfield-Dodds said while there were downgrades it was important to put the year in context.
“Overall, we expect the December 2017 forecast for Australia’s winter crop production in will be lower than the September 2017 forecast, but likely still around the 10 year average to 2015-16.”
However, within that 10 year period there were a couple of heavy drought years to bring averages down, including Australia’s worst year in modern history, 2006-07.
In Western Australia, bulk handler CBH is expecting a harvest between 9.5 and 10 million tonnes at this stage, although some analysts predict there could be further upside, due to the good spring rainfall in the south of the state.
CBH is expecting another big year in the Esperance zone, which has consolidated itself as one of the most reliable grain producing regions in the state.
The estimates from the bulk handler are backed up by the September report from the Grains Industry Association of Western Australia (GIWA) which pegged WA production at 10.2mt.
In Queensland, a recent Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) report found grain yields would be disappointing in the Sunshine State.
It predicted wheat yields of just 0.95 tonnes a hectare across the state, which is 42pc below long term median levels.
In particular, south-east and south-west Queensland are in the grip of a very poor winter cropping season, with yields likely to be at decile 1 levels, or among the lowest 10pc on record.
Recent rain in NSW has growers in that state in raptures, however NSW Farmers Association grains committee chair Rebecca Reardon said it would mostly be of use for a potential summer crop plant.
“The best rain was in the north where winter crop is largely finished in terms of setting yield,” she said.
“It will benefit later sown wheat and the chickpeas, but I don’t think it will mean extra tonnes of winter crop, it will more be a matter of consolidating what yield potential crops had.”
“A lot of the damage has already been done.”
However, she said with paddocks already sprayed out, farmers would look forward.
“Where people do plant summer crop they will be keen to plant if they can get the right amount of moisture, while for areas that focus on winter crop, where it is a little hot and dry for summer crop, they will go in with a long fallow and set themselves up for next year.”
In Victoria, crops are generally in very good condition, with the Wimmera among the pick of major cropping regions in the country.
Further to the north, a dry spring has knocked around Mallee yields somewhat, but farmers there are still on track for average production.
In SA, there is a clear line east and west of Adelaide. Generally reliable areas such as the Yorke and lower Eyre Peninsulas are not having the best of years, but the upper south-east region is looking very good.