Crop outlook gloomy

By Country News

The scene has been set for below-average winter crop harvest volumes, as very low soil moisture levels across Australia curb yield prospects and further plantings remain dependent on rain in the coming four weeks, according to Rabobank’s just-released Australian 2018-19 Winter Crop Outlook.

While the agribusiness banking specialist says there is still time for crops to be planted in most regions, and has only scaled back its Australian winter crop planting forecast to 21.6millionha — in line with the five-year average and two per cent down on 2017-18 — this season’s winter crop production and export capacity will be down.

Rabobank senior grains and oilseeds analyst Cheryl Kalisch Gordon said with a delayed start to the season’s plantings due to lack of rain and much of the nation’s crop sown into dry soil, high yield prospects were now largely out of reach.

‘‘High-end yield prospects have been removed, certainly for canola, but increasingly for wheat and barley with average yields, and in some cases less-than-average yields considered likely,’’ she said.

‘‘Early indications are that Australian wheat production in 2018-19 will be in the order of 22.9million tonnes, and 36.5million tonnes for the total winter crop, lower than the 37.8million tonnes harvested last season.’’

Dr Kalisch Gordon, co-author of the report with Rabobank agricultural analyst Wes Lefroy, said given the early stage of the season, the wheat crop could come in between 18 million and 28 million tonnes, while a total winter crop between 28 million and 44 million tonnes was possible.

‘‘Given the hot, dry summer and below-average rainfall in April and May, rain over the next four weeks is critical,’’ she said.

‘‘While planting intentions remain strong, how these intentions play out is totally dependent on what falls out of the sky, and there are considerable downside risks to the outlook.’’

Regardless of how the season pans out, Dr Kalisch Gordon said, grain export capacity would be limited in 2018-19.

‘‘If we see a wheat crop of 23million tonnes, we could see Australian wheat exports fall to their lowest level in nine years at 15.5 million tonnes,’’ she said.

With the pace of this year’s crop planting now slowing down in the wait for season-opening rains in many areas, Dr Kalisch Gordon said while the planting window remained open, the optimal planting window for canola had closed.

‘‘Canola has been the earliest casualty to the dry, with planting intentions forecast to be down by 13 per cent across Australia to 2.4millionha,’’ she said.

‘‘This may have been reflected in much lower overall cropping intentions, if the option to substitute to later sown wheat and barley were not still on the table.’’

Dr Kalisch Gordon said the later planting window for wheat and barley, together with strong cereal prices, was expected to drive a six per cent increase in area planted to barley in 2018-19 to 4.1millionha and a marginal rise in planted wheat hectares to 12.3millionha.