THE NATIONAL crop forecaster, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) is predicting farmers will turn to lower risk crops such as wheat and barley this season after less than optimum opening rainfall.
While ABARES flagged an overall drop in Australian winter crop grain production, it also predicts a lift in wheat and barley production.
The ability to grow in drier seasons and a year on year lift in values are reasons why farmers are switching back across to cereals from crops such as canola and chickpeas.
In its Australian Crop Report issued this week, ABARES estimates total crop production to be at 37.7 million tonnes, with wheat making up 21.9m tonnes of that.
It is a less than 1 per cent fall for total crop production and in spite of the wheat crop being well below the long term average, a 21.9m tonne crop would represent a 3pc year on year rise, due to the drought impacted 2017-18 harvest in northern NSW and Queensland.
ABARES executive director Steve Hatfield-Dodds, said there was a mixed outlook, with northern areas still dry and Western Australia the best placed leading into winter proper.
In terms of crop plantings he said the major move was in the barley space, which will be up 10pc year on year.
Barley is renowned as a good crop in a dry year, there are short season varieties to suit the late start and feed barley prices have reached an astonishing $400 a tonne or more in southern Queensland, meaning it is a potentially good earner this year.
“There will be a significant increase in area planted to barley is forecast, up 10 per cent to 4.3 million hectares,” Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.
On the flipside, canola tonnage is expected to fall by a double digit amount, a 3.1m tonne crop representing a 16pc fall.
Some growers who planned to grow canola have dropped it from the rotation due to the dry start and the lack of subsoil moisture.
Looking further ahead, the ABARES report pointed to a Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecast for below average rainfall in most cropping regions apart from Western Australia.
In terms of the recently completed summer crop, production is estimated to have increased by 13pc in 2017–18.
This was driven largely by increased sorghum and cotton production.
Rice production is estimated to have been 631,000 tonnes, a reduction of 22 per cent from the previous year.