Australian winter crop to fall by 12% as drought bites in east

The national crop is forecast to be 9% below the 20-year average despite a strong showing from Western Australia.

Winter crop production in Australia is set to fall by 12 percent in 2018-19, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.

ABARES’ Australian Crop Report for September 2018 said national winter crop production would fall by 12 percent to 33.2 million tons, with production declines forecast in all eastern states. Last year’s winter crop is estimated at 37.96 million tons.

New South Wales and Queensland have been particularly hard-hit by prolonged dry conditions, with crop forecasts in those two states only 9-12 per cent above the lowest levels in the past 20 years.

In particular, the crop in NSW is forecast to be 3.887 million tonnes, a drop of approximately 46 percent from last year’s estimated 7.228 million tons. Queensland’s crop is set to drop by 38 percent and Victoria’s by 29 percent.

The disappointing yields in the east of the country have been partially offset by higher-than-expected yields in Western Australia, where favorable rainfall in late fall and winter has led to bumper crops for many growers. But that performance is not enough to arrest the fall for the country as a whole.

Despite this, national winter crop production is still expected to be “significantly higher” than previous years, when all cropping regions were drought affected, said ABARES executive director Dr Steve Hatfield-Dodds.

“The national crop is almost double the lowest national production in the last 20 years, and 9 percent below the 20-year average.”

“In Western Australia, timely rainfall in late autumn and favorable winter rainfall increased soil moisture levels and yields are expected to be above average. In South Australia, timely rainfall in August boosted yield prospects in most southern cropping regions but unfavorable seasonal conditions in the north reduced their yield prospects.

“In Victoria, unfavorable seasonal conditions in the Mallee over winter reduced crop prospects but conditions in the Wimmera and western districts were reasonably favorable.”

Conditions in NSW and Queensland were “very poor” this winter, he added.

The crop forecast also predicted:

  • Wheat production to decrease by 10 per cent to 19.1 million tons;
  • Barley production to fall 7 per cent to around 8.3 million tons;
  • Canola production to fall 24 per cent to around 2.8 million tons;
  • Chickpea production to decrease 69 per cent to 351,000 tons;
  • Oats production to fall by 6 per cent to 1.0 million tons.

Low levels of soil moisture in the eastern states and South Australia mean that rainfall in early spring will be critical to crop development in many regions, Hatfield-Dodds said, while continuing favorable conditions in WA could lead to the crop there outperforming predictions.

The latest three-month climate outlook by the Bureau of Meteorology, issued on August 30, said rainfall exceeding the median was unlikely in most cropping regions in Australia, meaning that drier-than-average conditions are likely to continue. This could lead the crop production to be even lower than ABARES forecasts.