Australian state has ‘desperately dry’ weather

An emerging drought in Western Australia could reduce wheat and canola production in that state.

The western portion of the state has experienced “serious and severe rainfall deficiencies” during the fall months of March to May, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Large portions of the state have received rain that is in the lowest 10 percent of historical observations. As well, the winter (June-August) forecast calls for more dry conditions.

About 35 percent of the country’s wheat crop and 48 percent of its canola is grown in Western Australia, which is the country’s largest wheat exporting state.

“The dryness in Western Australia is certainly a concern because the winter wheat is having difficulty getting established,” said Bruce Burnett, director of markets and weather with Glacier FarmMedia.

Some growers may be holding off on planting the crop until they see rain.

“It is desperately dry there,” he said.

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The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) is forecasting 40.1 million tonnes of total winter crop production, down 33 percent from the previous year but in line with the five-year average before the stellar 2016-17 crop.

Burnett thinks it could be smaller than that if conditions don’t improve in Western Australia.

“You can’t have an average crop in Australia if Western Australia is having drought,” he said.

Wheat production is forecast at 24.2 million tonnes, which would be eight percent below the previous five-year average. Canola output is pegged at 3.3 million tonnes, an 11 percent decline.

It is also dry in large portions of South Australia, which is also a big producer of wheat, canola and lentils.

Rainfall has been average or better in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland in the eastern part of the country.

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Those three states are home to 98 percent of the country’s chickpea production and 37 percent of its lentils with the remainder of the country’s lentils grown in South Australia.

Burnett said the pulse crop is off to a good start, but it is far from being made.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology expects drier than average conditions for most of the country’s crop growing regions for June through August. Temperatures are expected to be higher than average in Western and South Australia.

The bureau said there is a 50 percent chance of El Nino developing in 2017, which is double the normal likelihood.

If that happens it would lead to a dry finish for the pulse crops in the eastern portion of the country, said Burnett.

ABARES is currently forecasting 1.4 million tonnes of chickpeas, a 46 percent increase over the previous five-year average, and 530,000 tonnes of lentils, a 50 percent bigger-than-average crop.

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