AUSTRALIAN farmers are expected to grow more barley than last year even though the early break through NSW, Victoria and South Australia means farmers there have more early-season options.
The pall cast on the world coarse grain market by the slowing down of the ethanol sector and a potential big corn crop are also not detracting growers.
This is in spite of the benefits of a low dollar dissipating with the Aussie dollar's rally over the past three weeks.
James Maxwell, Australian Crop Forecasters, said the first projections were for a national barley plant of 4.4 million hectares.
"This is a slight decline on last year, mainly due to drops in places like Western Australia, SA and Victoria," Mr Maxwell said.
"In contrast, in NSW and Queensland, where all plantings are going up, we're expecting a lot more barley to be planted this year."
Peter McMeekin, Grain Brokers Australia, forecast a small increase in production on last year, flagging a potential 10 million tonne crop, up from 8.5m tonnes last year.
"The increase in barley production will not be as dramatic as wheat," Mr McMeekin said.
"This is mainly because barley held up exceptionally well under adverse production conditions last year."
A larger yield and smaller plant is entirely possible to the potential for higher average yields.
Mr Maxwell said Western Australia would continue to be the biggest single barley state in terms of area, with around 1.7m ha, but he said in the northern zone people may be looking at more wheat for rotational purposes.
"This could change slightly if the wait for rain continues and they have to look for shorter season options but at present we're expecting the north, a traditional wheat area, to plant wheat instead of barley."
In Victoria, Mr Maxwell estimated a fall of around 5pc in plantings, however he said this needed to be taken in context of the massive year in 2019.
"It was a massive year for barley in Victoria last year so even if it came back a bit it would still be a big crop."
Kent Wooding, general manager of agronomy firm Agrivision at Swan Hill in Victoria's Mallee, said the early break this year meant farmers were looking at crops that preferred a longer season, with most barley varieties suited to a shorter growing window.
"There will still be a lot of barley around, people in the Mallee really like it for its durability and for the ability to be able to do things like control brome grass, but this year I think we will see things such as vetch, for vetch hay or even canola come into consideration just because of that early start."
Mr Wooding said the Mallee was in full swing planting now, with barley crops due to go in over the coming weeks.
Across the border in South Australia SARDI research scientist Kenton Porker said although a similar early break to Victoria had given farmers looking for a break in a cereal rotation the option to plant crops such as canola the traditionally big barley producing state would still put in a substantial amount of barley.
"This year there is the opportunity for canola or maybe a long season wheat if that fits your environment or rotation better, but there will still be plenty of barley.
"For growers who have got low lying frosty areas or in lower rainfall environments then barley is a good safe option that fits well at the end of the rotation."
Dr Porker said early starts would generally mean a switch to other crops as there was not yet a true long season barley option in spite of new releases that can be planted earlier.
"Even the newer varieties that are a bit longer are not as long season as some of the wheat lines that are available."
Dr Porker said he expected canola to be more popular in medium to high rainfall zones, while in low rainfall environments he said barley would be more prevalent.
"In an area such as the northern Mallee, which has had good early rain, they have never grown much canola anyway so you'd expect barley plantings will still be high there."
On the pricing front, demand for old crop canola remains strong, making up 62 per cent of the sales on the Clear Grain Exchange last week.
The trade is focusing on the southern zones, with 65pc of all sales out of the Kwinana, Geelong and Melbourne port zones.
Prices are hovering around $285/t for old crop for feed one quality grain and about $260/t for new crop.