Smallest sorghum crop on record

Australia set to produce its smallest sorghum crop on record

Cropping
This healthy paddock of sorghum will be as rare a sight as hen's teeth this year due to the drought.

This healthy paddock of sorghum will be as rare a sight as hen's teeth this year due to the drought.

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Australia could be faced with a sorghum crop as small as 100,000 tonnes, with official predictions currently at 398,000t.

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JUST 2500 B-Double truck loads may account for the entire Australian sorghum crop this year, as producers stare into the abyss of a unprecedentedly small crop.

There is an official estimate of total production of 398,000 tonnes of sorghum but growers in the northern cropping zone have said without rain it may struggle to reach even 100,000 tonnes.

In context, the average Australian sorghum crop is 1.5 million tonnes.

This means domestic users of feed grain are going to have to factor in virtually non-existent supplies from this year's summer crop and will instead rely exclusively on supplies from the current winter crop to tide them over until the 2020 harvest begins.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has the highest estimates of anyone at present, but even its number is for the smallest sorghum crop on record due to a lack of moisture for the crop.

At present ABARES' estimate of 398,000 tonnes, is a massive fall of 36 per cent from last year's paltry crop, but president of Queensland-based grower group AgForce Grains Brendan Taylor said unless there were some spectacular rainfall tallies in the next couple of weeks even this figure was unlikely.

"At this stage it would be no surprise whatsoever if we didn't even make it to 100,000 tonnes," Mr Taylor said.

"There is just no moisture anywhere, there may be the tiniest bit of irrigation water in Central Queensland but as we stand there will be virtually no plant in southern Queensland.

"In my area (around the summer cropping heartland of Dalby) there are just two paddocks planted, one on bore irrigation and the other had a fluke hail storm with 100mm worth of hail that melted slowly and soaked into the soil.

"Other than that people would need 100mm just to even consider a late plant and then it would need another 150-200mm to get the crop over the line.

"With this in mind most people are more likely to just bank any moisture they receive in the new year with a view to planting a winter crop, especially after last year where crops planted on marginal moisture crashed and burned."

Further south Matthew Madden, chairman of NSW Farmers grains committee said there was also nothing planted in his local area around Moree.

"There is nearly next to no stored moisture, the outlook is very grim.

"To my knowledge there is no dryland summer crop planted in this area and maybe just the odd paddock here and there planted using bore irrigation."

"I've heard a number for all of northern NSW of 7000 hectares planted and it may well be even smaller than that."

Mr Madden said there had been sporadic storms that had very small pockets with some sort of a soil moisture profile.

"Here I was lucky enough to get under a couple of storms and thought about planting but eventually walked away.

"If we had some more between now and mid-January I would consider planting even though agronomically it might not be the best bet, just given the prices are at record highs and should the season come in tight you would have the option to make fodder, which is also in high demand."

Mr Taylor said if anywhere was to receive enough moisture to plant before the planting window closed it would be Central Queensland.

"Their planting window goes through longer and also to get the amount of rain needed you'd probably be looking at some sort of tropical influences which Central Queensland gets more so that the south."

Mr Taylor said he anticipated end users that traditionally used sorghum, such as the pig industry, would be looking to transition their rations to white grains, which can be brought around from other areas.

"There may be a small bit of sorghum held over from last year but users will be switching to other feed sources."

He said the lack of sorghum was not the only problem in store for livestock industries.

"There is also going to be very little cotton planted and that means no cotton seed, which is an important part of feed rations."

ABARES currently has an estimated national cotton plant of 82,000ha, down 76pc year on year, but similar to sorghum there is further risk to the downside on this number.

This would be the smallest cotton plant since 2007-08 when the industry was confined to northern NSW and southern Queensland.

ABARES forecasts that virtually all the cotton grown this year will be under irrigation.

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