Rains 'too late' to revive Australian wheat much

The rain which has answered prayers of dryness-beset Australian farmers looks like it has arrived too late to revive most of the crop, and indeed has stoked concerns of harvest delays some quality degradation.

Parts of Western Australia, the country's top grain-growing state, have received 60mm of rain in the past week, with precipitation picking up in eastern areas too.

"The weather model show significant rain coming over the next few days from the strong cold front moving through all of central and eastern Australia," said, forecasting rains of up to 38mm (1.5 inches) in New South Wales and Victoria states.

However, while the rain will recharge soils whose declining moisture levels have been a major concern to growers, it has come too late in many areas to boost grainfill.

Indeed, for many farmers it looks like adding insult to injury, in slowing the harvest and, potentially, worsening quality, with gluten levels sensitive to late rainfall.

'Proving frustrating'

"The rainfall will be of benefit late maturing crops but most crops are too advanced to benefit from the moisture," Luke Mathews at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said, warning that "harvest delays and quality declines are possible" in some areas.

In Western Australia, grain handler CBH, saying the "wet conditions during harvest are proving frustrating", said that it had introduced wider moisture tolerance at some delivery sites because of the rain.

In Albany, in the south of the state "rain has halted harvest progress", while worsening hopes for quality.

"At this stage it is too early to determine grain quality trends in the zone, however early indications for yields have been that they may be slightly lower than initially estimated," CBH zone manager Greg Thornton said.

'Struggling on protein levels'

The quality concerns add to fears, even before the rains arrived, of the crop falling below estimates.

A major commodities house, with Australian farming interests, said that "yields from early-harvested crops in the west are poorer than expected whilst those in the east are struggling on protein levels".

And Mr Mathews warned they are "affecting local grain markets" too, in sparking the risk of downgrades of wheat to feed quality, underpinning values of milling grain, while undermining prices of the likes of barley and sorghum.

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