Average season ‘against odds’

By Country News

Australia is staring down the barrel of another lower-than-average winter crop, as ongoing dry weather hinders planting across much of the nation according to Rabobank’s latest winter crop outlook.

With many major cropping regions in the eastern states beginning the season with below-average rainfall, record-low soil moisture and unfavourable rainfall outlooks, the report says the country is ‘‘against all odds’’ to return to average grain and oilseed production in 2019-20.

Last year’s overall Australian grain crop was down 20 per cent to 30million tonnes according to Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, with overall wheat production the lowest in a decade at 17.3million tonnes.

Rabobank forecasts wheat production will again fall below 20million tonnes in 2019-20.

Rabobank senior grains and oilseeds analyst Cheryl Kalisch Gordon said the dry start to the 2019-20 season represented the third consecutive ‘‘sub-optimal planting window’’.

‘‘The hottest summer on record and below-average rainfall — on top of two years of below-average rainfall — means large areas are experiencing well below to the-lowest-on-record root-zone soil moisture and there has been no widespread autumn break in most areas,’’ she said.

However, it is not all bad news on the weather front according to Dr Kalisch Gordon, who said Victoria and parts of southern NSW were looking at the best start to a winter crop since 2016-17.

‘‘A major cold front that lashed parts of the eastern states at the beginning of May brought critical moisture to these regions, many of which had been heavily impacted by drought last season,’’ she said.

‘‘Follow-up rain has continued to replenish soil moisture levels and enabled farmers to progress towards completing their planned programs.’’

With the largely moisture-depleted start to this year’s Australian cropping season, the report said a high rate of dry sowing had been undertaken by growers across the country.

Big swings away from canola and pulses to cereals are also predicted in the report.

‘‘The pivot towards more wheat and barley that we saw last season is expected to be followed again this year, due to the higher local prices we have in cereals and their less risky production dynamics when there are uncertain seasonal conditions,’’ Dr Kalisch Gordon said.

The bank forecasts Australian grain prices to remain in higher ranges during the coming year with lower forecast local production, depleted local stocks and some support for global cereal pricing keeping Australian prices above five-year averages.