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Crop prospects in Western Australia - but dryness still a threat


Harvest prospects in Australia’s top grain-growing have improved, but remain vulnerable to further dryness, an industry briefing said – even as analysis group Refinitiv cautioned of a “high probability of drought”.


In Western Australia, “the 2020 grain growing season is finally starting to look like it has the potential to return at least an average harvest,” said the Grain Industry Association of Western Australia (GIWA).


“In most regions crops have made up ground from the warm winter conditions to date and are at growth stages similar to a traditional mid-to-late May break.”


However, the association added that state’s winter crops still “need moisture in the bank”, with rains proving enough just to cover short-term needs rather than providing a reserve against future dryness.


‘Crops will crash’

The growing season so far “has been dominated by the very strong high-pressure systems resulting in severe north-south wind events and scattered rain rather than good soaking falls.


“Crops in most areas of the grain growing regions have been living ‘hand to mouth’, with rainfall events, and many have had only one event of greater than 10mm”.


The result is that “there is little sub-soil moisture and crops will crash in the [southern hemisphere] spring if there are not decent falls of rain over the next month”.


Australia’s official Bureau of Meteorology said earlier this week, in a review of June weather, that “root-zone soil moisture has decreased across most of South Australia and the eastern states, and remained below average for the southwestern half of Western Australia”.


‘High probability of drought’

In fact, the bureau, in its latest three-month outlook, two weeks ago, while foreseeing a wet winter and early spring across many growing areas, saw average conditions for the Western Australia wheat belt, and the potential for below-average rains in parts of South Australia and Victoria.


However, the latest forecast, on Tuesday, from the NOAA, the official US meteorological unit, “indicates normal to dry conditions in Western Australia” in the July-to-October period, Refinitiv reported.


“In short, the long-term weather outlooks are favourable for crop production in New South Wales and Queensland, but indicate high probability of drought in Western Australia and southern portions of South Australia and Victoria and downside risks to Australia wheat yield and production.”


Refinitiv trimmed by 57,000 tonnes to 25.03m tonnes its forecast for Australia’s wheat harvest this year, taking it a little further below the 26.67m tonnes expected by Abares, the official Australian crop bureau.


Area estimates

The Refinitiv forecast factored in an expectation of harvested area of 12.62m hectares, below the 12.99m hectares expected by Abares with, at 1.98 tonnes per hectare, a slightly lower yield figure too.


For Western Australia, Refinitiv pegged harvested area at 5.02m hectares.


GIWA pegged the state’s planted wheat area at 4.93m hectares, an upgrade of 40,000 hectares from last month’s estimate, but reflecting some further switch from barley, after China slapped punitive tariffs on imports of Australian barley.

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