The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has estimated a 33 per cent cut in winter crop production, to 40.1 million tonnes for the 2017/18 season.
ABARES is forecasting winter crop production to be around the five-year average to 2015/16, but if the numbers are realised it would still be the fifth biggest crop on record.
Estimates for last season’s record crop, harvested over summer, have been pulled back from February’s estimate of 58.8 million tonnes to 53 million tonnes.
The 2017/18 wheat crop is forecast to be 31 per cent lower than 2016/17, at 24.2 million tonnes, slightly lower than the United States Department of Agriculture’s estimate of 25 million tonnes.
ABARES has also predicted the overall area planted for winter crops will fall by 1 per cent to 22.5 million hectares, with a drop in the area sown to cereal crops (wheat, barley, oats) and an increase in higher returns oilseeds and lentils (canola, chickpeas, lupins).
Last season Australian farmers produced a record amount of grain, with the forecast cut in production reflecting this season’s more challenging weather conditions.
“Winter rainfall is likely to be below average in most cropping regions, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s latest three-month rainfall outlook for June to August 2017,” the report read. “But commodity prices are also poor when compared with historic averages, so there’s been a shift away from crops like wheat, barley and oats and towards higher value crops like chickpeas and lentils.”
“The area planted to canola is forecast to rise in all major producing states, largely reflecting favourable expected returns compared with wheat, oats and barley,” the report further revealed
Most parts of the country received good summer rainfall which soaked into the soil, but by autumn the picture across the country had become far more variable.
New South Wales, Victoria and parts of Queensland received average or better autumn rains, while it was “extremely low to below average” in Western Australian cropping regions, and “variable” in South Australia.
A recent business confidence survey conducted by rural lender Rabobank revealed “confidence remains relatively subdued in the grains sector, as pricing woes were compounded by the variable start to the winter cropping season, with planting rains falling short in WA, SA and Queensland”.
“After enjoying excellent rainfall and a bumper crop in 2016, [South Australia’s] grain producers were still looking skyward for additional planting rain when the survey was undertaken, with only patchy rains achieved since.”
The results in Victoria paint a very different picture, with 34 per cent of grain growers surveyed expecting agricultural conditions to improve, and 55 expecting them to remain stable.
“The winter crop, which is nearly all in the ground, has been sown into fantastic conditions. In some areas it has been a little too wet,” the Rabobank report said.