Drought ordeals are not over yet for Australian farmers, officials warned, forecasting that continued dryness will send summer crop area to its lowest in at least 26 years, even as they slashed hopes for the ongoing winter grains harvest.
Abares, the official Australian crop bureau, downgraded by 228,000 hectares to 535,000 hectares its forecast for domestic plantings of winter crops, such as corn, cotton and sorghum, for 2019-20.
Sowings at that level would represent a decline of one-half on last season’s total, which was itself drought-reduced, with summer crop area earlier in the decade topping 1.5m hectares.
And that area of summer crop sowings would be the lowest on available data back to 1994-95, with the previous in that period the 797,000 hectares set in 2009-10.
For sorghum, the main summer crop, Australian sowings were seen at 241,000 hectares – again, by far the lowest on readily available data going back 25 years, as was the forecast harvest figure of 398,000 tonnes.
Last season, sowings were more than twice as much, producing a harvest of 1.28m tonnes.
For cotton, lint output was pegged at a 12-year low of 177,000 tonnes, a drop of 63% year on year, on area down 76% at 82,000 hectares.
“A combination of the unfavourable summer outlook and very-much-below-average levels of soil moisture at the end of spring means summer crop production is forecast to decline, said Peter Gooday, the Abares acting executive director.
“Summer rainfall is likely to be very much below average in most parts of Queensland and northern New South Wales,” he said, quoting forecasts from Australia’s official Bureau of Meteorology.
‘Cut for hay’
The comments came as Abares cut its estimate for Australian winter crop production by 4.46m tonnes to 29.41m tonnes, taking its below last year’s drought-affected result to the lowest in 12 years.
“Below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures during spring reduced winter crop prospects in most cropping regions,” Mr Gooday said, although adding that “the changes in Western Australia and southern New South Wales had the biggest impact on national production prospects”.
He also noted that “high fodder prices and unfavourable seasonal conditions caused some crops planted for grains and oilseeds production to be cut for hay in regions with low levels of soil moisture at the beginning of spring”.
Wheat, canola, barley downgrades
The forecast for Australian wheat output in 2019-20 was downgraded by 3.25m tonnes to 15.85m tonnes, also the lowest since 2007-08.
Canola output was estimated at 2.10m tonnes, a cut of 205,000 tonnes from the previous forecast, and a 10-year low.
For barley, Australia’s harvest was pegged at 8.67m tonnes, a downgrade of 807,000 tonnes, but remaining above the 8.31m tonnes produced last season.
Barley area rose by more than 200,000 hectares year on year, with the crop often viewed as less moisture dependent than wheat and cheaper to produce, and with Australia having a ready need for feed in the face of dryness damage to pasture.