(Australian Associated Press)
October showers have brought some relief to farmers, but it’s far too late for much of Australia’s drought-ravaged cropping country, with rural analysts predicting the worst winter harvest in 10 years.
Rabobank’s Winter Crop Production Outlook – titled Running On Empty – predicts Northern and Central NSW to cop it the hardest, with the state facing a nearly 60 per cent reduction in the wheat harvest, and more than an 80 per cent reduction in pulses (eg. dry beans, lentils and chickpeas).
Rabobank forecasts the overall 2018/19 national grains harvest to reach just 29.3 million tonnes, down 23 per cent on the previous year, following a “drought to rival the millennium drought”, as well as severe overnight frosts in cropping regions.
Only increased harvest prospects in Western Australia – which is set to contribute more than half of the national winter crop for the first time in 20 years – has prevented the country from facing its lowest winter crop in two decades, the bank said.
“For vast regions of the eastern states, there will be no harvest, and where there is a harvest, yields will be anywhere between 30 per cent and 50 per cent down on average,” the Winter Crop report says.
“Late, to no, season-opening rains, below-average to lowest-on average rainfall and above-average temperatures during the growing season have been coupled with damaging frost to reduce harvest volumes and affect grain quality.”
In central and northern NSW, up to 80 per cent of certain planted areas will not be harvested for grain, as farmers look to alternative uses such as hay, silage and grazing.
The state is expected to see a 58 per cent drop in wheat production on last year, and 72 per cent drop below the five-year average, to 1.9 million tonnes.
NSW chickpeas and beans are expected to be hit even harder with pulses facing a 84 per cent production drop on the 2017/18 season, and 86 per cent from the five-year average, to 97,000 tonnes.
Rabobank had predicted an earlier and reduced national harvest in its October Agribusiness Monthly outlook, saying two years of below-average rainfall, as well as icy overnight conditions, and high livestock prices could see grain growers abandon weather-beaten crops and cash in on silage instead.
Rabobank agricultural analyst Wes Lefroy says higher prices will offset lower crop yields for some growers, they will deliver little solace to many with significantly-reduced, or no, yield prospects.
The bank also forecasts total Australian grain exports to drop by 50 per cent on last year, to 13.9 million tonnes, including a 50 per cent drop in wheat exports, a 48 per cent drop in barley exports, and a 41 per cent drop in canola exports.
Earlier in the month, NSW’s peak ag lobby group called for maximum vigilance from border authorities in the increasing likelihood of grain being imported into the state because of the drought.
NSW Farmers’ Grains Committee chair Matthew Madden said growers are anxious to ensure that the state’s reputation for growing high-quality, disease free grain is not jeopardised in a rush to import grain from other states and overseas.