AS THE business end of the winter cropping season hits, forecasters are still continuing to shave tonnage off their production estimates.
The official forecaster ABARES took the unusual step of issuing an update in between its crop reports to warn the industry that further downgrades to its September estimates of total winter crop production of 33.2 million tonnes were likely.
The September figure was already the lowest in a decade, but ABARES executive director Steve Hatfield-Dodds said he expected a further 15 per cent to come off that number.
This would bring total winter crop production to 28.2m tonnes.
Wheat production has been cut to around 16.5m tonnes.
“Unfortunately September rainfall was very much below average in many cropping regions and there were significant frost events in southern New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia,” Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.
“October rainfall benefitted crop prospects in southern New South Wales, southern Wimmera in Victoria, southern South Australia and Western Australia, but on balance the benefits of October rainfall are expected to be much smaller than damage that resulted from the unfavourable seasonal conditions during September.”
His thoughts were shared by Jonathan Creese, manager of Ag Answers, the research division of Rural Bank.
“We see total production being under 30m tonnes, there’s very few numbers now above that,” Mr Creese said.
“There’s various numbers out there for wheat from 16-19m tonnes, but the higher end figures are generally those that have been out there for a while,” he said.
“Working off this, there will be an exportable wheat surplus of between 9 and 12m tonnes, but we would expect the final number to be on the lower end of that scale.”
With the time for beneficial rain closing in on all but the most southernmost cropping zones in the nation Mr Creese said there could be further cuts to production numbers but little chance of an increase.
“We’ve seen some nasty late season frosts in recent weeks, including one in Victoria’s Western District which was one of the few areas with good crops, and given rain will only be of benefit from now for a very few growers the risk is all on the downside.”
Mr Creese said grain markets were closely monitoring the winter crop and the fledgling summer plant.
“The international factors are doing very little to prices here, it’s all about local production.”
“Grain is still very much priced to move from WA to the east coast.”
“There is some confidence around sorghum given the October rain in the north, but more will be needed to translate that optimism into grain.”
Dr Hatfield-Dodds said the most significant falls in crop prospects occurred in Victoria and South Australia.
“Winter crop area devoted to grain and oilseed production is estimated to have fallen by around 8 percent because a higher than planned area was cut for hay,” Dr Hatfield-Dodds said.
In terms of commodity by commodity breakdowns, Mr Creese said barley would fare the best.
“Wheat has more so impacted by reduction in plantings from the beginning of the season.
“Barley is a tougher plant, there has been a reduction due to seasonal factors, but the combination of reasonable plantings and its performance in the dry means it won’t be back by as much.”
Mr Creese said there would be a large drop in canola production.
“The seasonal factors that impacted wheat and barley apply and there is also the factor that less was sown opportunistically.
“The canola plantings scheduled in the rotation went in, but as an early sown crop, with the dry start there was not the extra planting you can get if the season is favourable.”
“In comparison with the other crops there was also a relatively low price at sowing time for canola so that worked against it as well.”