Frost, hail, lack of rain drain Australia’s output

Optimism fades | Most states suffered weather and disease issues but Western Australia is the ‘shining light’

Australia’s crops keep getting smaller.

Rural Bank, a major Australian farm lender, has released its production estimates for the country’s major crops.

The bank forecasts 23.3 million tonnes of wheat, 7.27 million tonnes of barley and 3.43 million tonnes of canola.

The wheat forecast is 932,000 tonnes below the Australian government’s September estimate, and the barley estimate is 277,000 tonnes smaller. The canola forecast is slightly higher than the government estimate but lower than the Australian Oilseeds Federation outlook in October.

Production of all three crops will be well below last year’s output, with wheat falling 14 percent, barley down 24 percent and canola dropping nine percent, the bank said.

The Australian government is scheduled to come out with a new estimate Dec. 2.

Some Australian analysts think the wheat crop could be as small as 22 million tonnes, boosting prospects for North American wheat exports to markets in Southeast Asia.

The bank said crops got off to an ideal start because of abundant early-season rain, but optimism quickly faded when rainfall between July and October turned patchy and below average in many important grain growing regions.

Isolated frost and hail haven’t helped matters.

“Variability is going to be the order of the day for harvest this year,” Will Rayner, the bank’s general manager of agribusiness, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Crops are particularly disappointing in Queensland, southern New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Cereal crop yields are expected to be below the five-year average in Queensland. The bank expects the state’s smallest wheat crop since 2008.

Good April rainfall caused growers in New South Wales to seed early, but that left crops susceptible to frost damage, especially canola. Growers can expect average yields.

Patchy rain is expected to result in below average crop production in Victoria, ending a string of good harvests in that state.

Crops in South Australia got off to the best start in 20 years, but the lack of late growing season rainfall has dulled prospects to the point where the bank is anticipating slightly below average yields.

The South Australia government has a rosier outlook.

It expects total crop production to be more than the long-term average, despite one of the warmest and driest springs on record. Disaster was averted because of stored soil moisture from above average rainfall earlier in the season.

However, production of wheat and barley, the state’s two biggest crops, will be below the five-year average, according to the state government. Quality has been good for early-seeded cereals but is expected to diminish for late-seeded crops because of the extremely dry finish.

South Australia’s canola crop is also in trouble, with the forecast calling for an 18 percent reduction over the previous five-year average because of beet western yellow virus, waterlogging, frost damage and dry spring conditions.

Western Australia should pull up national yield averages. Many regions in the southern part of the state are expecting average to above average yields.

“Western Australia is probably the shining light,” said Rayner.

Wheat production in Western Australia is expected to be above the five-year average of 8.28 million tonnes despite poor rainfall, hot conditions and hail damage in the northern part of the state.

There are reports that harvest rain has caused considerable downgrading of Western Australia’s wheat and barley crops.

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