Dry season prompts production downgrade

29 Jun, 2017 08:25 AM
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THE AUSTRALIAN grains industry is concerned the year-on-year production decrease may markedly exceed the whopping 33 per cent fall forecast by the Australia Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) two weeks ago.

Reasons for the pessimism include vast swathes of unplanted or yet to germinate crop in Western Australia’s northern Wheatbelt, an autumn with almost no rain on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula and concerns in north-west New South Wales becoming more pressing with each day without rain.

There is conjecture among grain analysts that the national wheat crop could dip below 20 million tonnes, well below ABARES’ official estimate of 24.19mt.

Lloyd George, commodity analyst and owner of AgScientia, said he felt sub-20mt predictions were alarmist, but added the ABARES figure would come under pressure if there was not rain soon.

“Among analysts and the trade there can often be a race to the top or a race to the bottom, so figures can be exaggerated, but there is no doubt the situation is serious for many growers,” Mr George said.

Central Wheatbelt agronomist Dan Taylor, DKT Rural, Kellerberrin, said there was a big variation in crop condition, according to whether crops could germinate on light autumn rainfall.

“About a third is up and away, it wasn’t massive rainfall but enough for crop roots to push into subsoil moisture, so they are OK,” Mr Taylor said.

“Another third has had patchy emergence, while the last third is either sown and not germinated or not planted.

“We’re hanging for a decent rain this week, there’s been no double digit rainfall (above 10 millimetres) since March.”

In South Australia, Callum Downs commodity analyst Malcolm Bartholomaeus said unless the season from now on was wetter than average the State was unlikely to achieve average yields.

“From this stage on, over the entire State, average rainfall would probably see a crop down about 15pc on average,” Mr Bartholomaeus said.

He said conditions ranged from good in the State’s south-east to poor on the Eyre Peninsula.

“Crops are already accumulating yield deficits on the Eyre Peninsula due to the late start,” he said.

New South Wales Farmers grains committee chair Rebecca Reardon said many farmers in areas such as Walgett, Mungindi and Coonamble, in north-west NSW, had stopped sowing programs and were waiting for further rain before resuming.

“Getting back into towards Moree it is patchy, but generally OK, it is further to the west where the crop is really struggling,” she said.

Even areas which have received good rainfall, such as Victoria, have had issues.

Grain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann, who farms in the Wimmera, said mouse damage and seed burst caused by heavy rain in mid-May on newly planted crops meant not all had enjoyed the ideal start the rainfall figures suggested.

The dryness issue has been especially frustrating for WA farmers as there is good subsoil moisture following heavy summer rain in many parts.

“We didn’t need a lot of autumn rain for it to be a good, we just haven’t got anything,” Mr Taylor said.

The dry conditions have also put ABARES’ canola numbers under the pump.

In the crop report, ABARES estimates production will hit 3.3mt of canola this year, an figure which many feel will be markedly too high given WA’s travails.

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FarmWeekly
Gregor Heard

Gregor Heard

is the national grains writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media

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