UP TO four million tonnes of unharvested wheat is at threat due to a monster weather event expected to hammer south-eastern Australia from Thursday onwards.
Rainfall in excess of 250mm is forecast by the Bureau of Meteorology for parts of eastern Victoria, with virtually all the Garden State expected to see more than 60mm.
In the Riverina, falls are expected to be in the 40-80mm range, while in South Australia there could be tallies between 25-50mm.
James Maxwell, Australian Crop Forecasters, said rough calculations suggested there was around 4 million tonnes of wheat yet to be harvested in the zone expected to be hit by the rain.
Many regions have already received harvest rain, increasing the threat of downgrading.
Should the rain tallies reach the lofty estimates it will have a major impact on the composition of the Australian cereal crop.
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“The wheat that has been harvested so far has been of very good quality, with good protein levels,” Mr Maxwell said.
He said there had been patches of downgrading to general purpose quality due to rain already, while a spectacular band of hail storms caused isolated but significant damage through the eastern Wimmera in Victoria over the weekend.
Wheat downgraded to feed may provide an option for northern feed grain users who have been watching declining summer crop prospects with concern.
Many feedlots are currently buying small parcels over the summer, waiting for cheaper, more plentiful sorghum supplies to come online in March.
AgForce grains section president Wayne Newton said while there had been a useful start to the summer cropping season, there had been a dry spell of late.
“The sorghum price went down at planting following some nice rain, but it is now getting quite dry and we’re looking for a rain again,” he said.
“There certainly isn’t excess moisture.”
He said the local feed market had taken much of the Queensland winter crop, even though the wheat was of good quality.
“Some of the real premium Australian Prime Hard is going for export but grades H2 and below are going into feed rations.”
Mr Maxwell said export programs had been subdued nationwide.
“Up until a couple of days ago, there had only been 700,000 tonnes exported from the bulk ports for November, this is around half what you could normally expect.”
He said buying programs had been subdued as the industry looked to get a better handle on total tonnages and the quality breakdown.
Mr Maxwell said there were reasonable tonnages of malt barley around, especially in southern Western Australia, but said any standing barley would be impacted by the rain.
He said canola had been lower in oil in drought impacted central and northern NSW but oil levels have been good through much of Victoria.
Unharvested canola is at less risk in terms of downgrading due to the rain, however heavy falls will smash seeds out of the pod.
In Victoria, there has already been wild weather, with isolated but potent storm cells wreaking havoc over the weekend.
Balmoral district farmer Nick Pekin recorded around 20mm at his property, but added to the south-west of him, at Chetwynd, there had been isolated tallies of up to 110mm.
At Banyena, in the eastern Wimmera, Chris Drum said a savage hail storm had flattened crops, with hail stones in between golf ball and tennis ball size.
“It probably hit three farms really badly in a strip about five kilometres wide, while the broader storm delivered rain over a band around 20km wide.”
“Where the big storm was centred it has flattened canola.”
He said the region was now on full alert for the upcoming rain.
“The last lot of storms were very patchy and many people missed out.
“This week it looks like Armageddon, we’re definitely at risk of crop downgrades if it comes through.”
At Hopetoun, farmer Darren Bellinger has had the headers running 18 hours a day in an attempt to beat the weather.
Yields have been exceptional, with wheat coming in at 3.5-4 tonnes a hectare, well above long term district averages and quality is good.
He said all farmers were flat out getting as much crop off prior to the rain.
“There will be a lot of nervous people, because with the forecast, we could end up with anything.”
Chris Kelly, Woomelang, said his area in the southern Mallee had also fared well, with wheat yields getting close to 5t/ha at the top end.
“We were lucky to get a run of thunderstorms during the growing season that other areas missed out on.”