SENIOR executives from Australia's three biggest grain bulk handlers are predicting a good season in a further sign Australian winter crop production is likely to rebound strongly.
Jason Craig, chief marketing and trading officer at CBH, James Murray, chief operations officer, Viterra and Sean Barker, GrainCorp trading general manager, told the Australian Grains Industry Conference (AGIC) Asia event last week crop prospects were generally positive in their respective catchments.
Mr Craig said the crop in Western Australia had been boosted by timely rain in July.
He said at present a crop of 4 million tonnes of barley and 10.5 million tonnes of wheat could be expected with reasonable seasonal conditions from here on in.
More broadly, he came out with an estimate of a national wheat crop of 25-28m tonnes, which will be around a 75 per cent increase on last year's 15.9m tonnes, which was well down on long term averages primarily due to the east coast drought which ravaged production in Queensland and NSW.
Mr Craig said the final couple of months of the season would be influential not only in terms of crop quantity, but quality.
"If we get a softer finish, we will produce more grain but there will be more ASW quality rather than hard wheat," Mr Craig said.
"That will be more suited to the Filipino and Thai markets than hard wheat, which is used in other applications."
In terms of overall exports, Mr Craig said he was expecting Australia's wheat export program to rebound to around 17m tonnes.
Mr Murray said that although there were some emerging problems with dryness he expected there would be a similar harvest to last year in South Australia, where Viterra is the major bulk handler.
"Last we only received around 70pc of our long term rainfall as a whole due to drought and most farmers are reporting they are in a better position now than this time last year.
"The critical period is for now on in, but we are certainly optimistic."
He said he expected another good year in terms of quality.
"South Australia is well known for quality grain and again we'd be looking to reasonable tonnages of AH (Australian hard) and APW quality wheat.
Mr Barker said Queensland had started well but could do with more rain now, while NSW is performing exceptionally. Reports say that the state is on track for markedly above average yields.
He said southern NSW was in good condition, but relied on late winter and spring rainfall to finish problem.
In Victoria he said the crops generally still looked very good after a fantastic start and expectations were for average to above average rainfall.
The above average rainfall means Mr Barker felt there would be a traditional split in terms of crop quality, with good AH availability due to the better production in northern NSW.
On the barley front, Mr Craig said it would be difficult, especially on the malt front, to replace the hole left by the absence of the Chinese market, with China not buying Australian barley in retaliation to alleged dumping of the cereal.
Mr Craig said of the 4m tonnes likely to be produced in WA, a typical split was around 30pc malt, meaning there will be over a million tonnes of malt barley to market.
In terms of variety he said the Spartacus cultivar was now dominant in the west, while with more nitrogen being top-dressed he said overall the crop's protein levels were higher, although it was still possible to meet the requirements of the malt sector.
In South Australia Mr Murray said Spartacus was popular, along with Compass.