Wheat-belt farmers in Australia’s east are rushing to secure seed several weeks before the all-important winter crop planting starts amid hopes that a devastating three-year drought is coming to an end.
Recent deluges across the country’s east have turned paddocks green for the first time in years, lifting grain production forecasts in the world’s seventh largest wheat exporter.
Angus Woods, of family-owned grains company Woods Group, said demand for seed was already strong even though most farmers wouldn’t plant their wheat until April and May.
"What we already have on the books is what we’d call a good year and we are not at planting time yet, so it will be interesting to see what the peak brings," Woods told Reuters.
"A planting rain at the end of April would really seal the deal," said Woods, who is based near the border of Queensland and New South Wales.
Grain farmers in Australia’s export-focused west are also hoping for friendlier conditions after crops were hit by a combination of brutal heat and bitter cold last year, which cut national wheat output to a 12-year low of 15.2m tonnes, according to Australian government data.
Australia’s chief commodity forecaster is predicting 21.3m tonnes for the coming crop, a 40% improvement, as recent heavy rains encourage farmers to sow more grain, while private forecasters see a crop as high as 28m tonnes.
Rob Hart, of Hart Bros. Seeds, said farmers had been making the most of the recent rain by planting grazing crops for livestock, but their attention was now shifting to wheat.
"If they get a planting rain, it will be wall-to-wall, they will go nuts," Hart said.
Australia was a top-four wheat exporter before the drought slashed production, and a rebound in its wheat supplies could help the country regain export share in Asia.
"We are looking at 27m-28m tonnes of wheat output (in 2020-21), almost twice the size of the current crop," said Ole Houe, director of advisory services at brokerage IKON Commodities.
However, big crops in other regions like the Black Sea area represent a competitive threat.
"The Black Sea region is looking at a bumper crop and there will be stiff competition in the market," said Houe.
Large parts of Australia have suffered three years of intense drought, which also created the tinder-dry conditions that fuelled a horror bushfire season that only came under control last month when rain started to fall.
Follow-up rain has helped rebuild sub-soil moisture on farms that might not have seen a crop since 2016.
Wheat is Australia’s major winter crop and is typically sown in the southern hemisphere autumn and harvested in spring and summer.
"The drought will not have broken until we’ve had a successful harvest, although there’s certainly an air of confidence around," said grains farmer Matthew Madden, who also chairs the NSW Farmers’ grain committee.
"People are looking forward to planting those bare paddocks and getting back into production."