THE Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has flagged a whopping 33 per cent year-on-year fall in grain production, but industry analysts suggest the figure may fall further again.
The fall appears dramatic in percentage terms, however the bottom line number of total production of 40.1 million tonnes is in line with median yearly production over the past decade.
Within this, tonnages of the nation’s major crop, wheat, are expected to fall to 24.19mt, down from 35.11mt last season.
The 2016-17 winter crop of 59.1mt smashed records by a significant margin.
Analysts have seized upon the report, which has much of its data collection done during May, and suggested the numbers may already be too high.
Central to arguments are dry spells in Western Australia and South Australia which mean crops have passed the optimum planting window.
Some growers have dry sown, while others are waiting desperately for rain.
By the end of June many will be forced either to change to short season varieties of cereal crops or in extreme cases to abandon planting altogether.
However, the ABARES wheat numbers are already lower than those put out by major international agencies such as the International Grains Council and the United States Department of Agriculture.
ABARES has flagged a national planting of 22.5 million hectares, down 1pc year on year.
In terms of production drops, barley is expected to be the worst affected, declining 39pc, while wheat tonnages are predicted to drop 31pc.
Acting executive director of ABARES Peter Gooday said a major trend emerging was the desire to plant pulses, which have markedly higher prices compared to the long-term average than cereal crops.
“While the area planted to cereal crops is expected to decrease, the area planted to chickpeas and lentils is forecast to increase,” he said.
Mr Gooday said the relative pricing would favour plantings of canola, which is also achieving at relatively strong historical prices at present.
“The area planted to canola is also forecast to rise in all major producing States, largely reflecting favourable expected returns compared with wheat, oats and barley,” Mr Gooday said.
But industry chatter suggests many feel the total number of 3.3mt of canola will be on the high side given the current travails in WA.
While the focus is increasingly on the dry in western SA and WA, along with patches of northern New South Wales, Mr Gooday said autumn rainfall was generally favourable in cropping regions in the eastern States, which resulted in good levels of soil moisture in these regions.