Australian winter crop around 70pc planted

Liz Wells, May 19, 2021

Most crops of canola in NSW, including this one at Marrar photographed in early May, are off to a flying start. Photo: Luke Gooden, Pioneer Seeds

PLANTING of Australia’s 2021-22 winter crop is estimated to be about 70-per-cent complete with average or better yields in sight provided the growing season is kind, and with canola shaping up to break the 2016-17 production record of 4.3 million tonnes (Mt) a distinct possibility.

Industry estimates are coming out ahead of ABARES initial forecasts for Australia’s 2021-22 (Oct-Sep) winter crop to be released in its June 16 Australian crop report, and point to wheat and barley area and tonnage being down on last year.

IKON Commodities has forecast new-crop canola at 4.7Mt, while Australia Crop Forecasters (ACF) has pencilled in 4.4Mt.

IKON’s barley estimate at 10.5Mt is up from its initial new-crop forecast of 10.1Mt released in March, while its wheat number at 29.5Mt is up 1Mt from its initial figure.

ACF’s numbers are below IKON’s, with 25.5Mt for wheat and 9Mt for barley, but a lift in both is possible once the results of its planting survey are factored in.

On chickpeas, IKON’s estimate has risen markedly to 1.6Mt from 900,000t seen initially, while ACF is sitting on 680,000t.

In its production estimates for 2021-22, IKON Commodities said current moisture levels and the outlook for the crop now being planted were looking good in most areas and may continue to improve.

“The Aussie canola crop is the standout in this update as the crop has been increased by 1.1Mt to 4.7Mt due to the high global oilseed prices and optimal subsoil moisture levels in New South Wales and Western Australia, encouraging planting at nearly record high levels,” IKON said.

Indications are that nearly all of Australia’s wheat and canola has been planted in states other than South Australia, where dry conditions are of concern.

HECTARES Wheat Barley Canola Chickpeas
Queensland 710,000 100,000 0 280,000
NSW 3,860,000 700,000 650,000 230,000
Victoria 1,640,000 840,000 500,000 30,000
SA 2,330,000 870,000 340,000 10,000
WA 5,010,000 1,510,000 1,540,000 0
Mainland total 13,550,000 4,020,000 3,030,000 550,000

Table 1: Estimated planted area of Australia’s 2021-22 main winter crops. Source: ACF

TONNES Wheat Barley Canola Chickpeas
Queensland 1,220,000 140,000 0 370,000
NSW 7,410,000 1,430,000 800,000 270,000
Victoria 3,620,000 2,080,000 810,000 30,000
SA 4,370,000 1,800,000 430,000 10,000
WA 8,860,000 3,550,000 2,330,000 0
Mainland total 25,480,000 9,000,000 4,370,000 680,000

Table 2: Estimated production of Australia’s 2021-22 main winter crops. Source: ACF

Western Australia has gotten off to an ideal start, and Grains Industry of WA oilseeds council chair Michael Lamond on Monday said around 80 per cent of the state’s crop has been planted.

“There’ll be very little left to go in as of the end of next week,” Mr Lamond said.

Planting conditions for the state were outlined in GIWA’s most recent crop report issued May 7, and since then, weather has been conducive to planting in all but the south-west corner of the grainbelt where further rain has slowed progress.

“There’s still a bit to go in the south.”

Planting is less advanced in other states.

Following is a round-up of conditions:

South Australia

Primary Industries and Regions South Australia grains account manager Dave Lewis said most of the state’s growing areas were waiting for a decent rain to advance seeding, with overall winter-cropping area only around 10pc planted.

“It’s very dry, and there’s been a bit of dry sowing,” Mr Lewis said.

“Guys with large programs have done a bit of seeding.”

Mr Lewis said subsoil moisture levels were low in areas that missed out on useful rain in late summer, but growers would step up the planting pace ahead of the next general rain.

“There isn’t much in the SA forecast for the next week or so, but the season outlook is throwing up early June as a week to watch.”

While SA appears to be dragging the chain compared with other states, Mr Lewis said there was no reason to expect below-average yields.

“We have done reasonably when there’s a later break.

“It gets a bit questionable in low-rainfall zones, but that’s when they’ll change crop mix, and replace longer-season crops with shorter-season ones like barley.

“The later you go, the more you depend on spring, but getting crops planted by the middle of June is ideal.”


Think Agri principal Kate Burke estimates Victoria’s growers have planted 50-75pc of their winter-crop area, and a chunk of that has been sown dry.

Subsoil moisture levels vary throughout the state from ample to less than half full, but are generally lowest in its northern and north-western cropping regions.

“It’s particularly dry in the Murray and a lot of the northern Mallee.”

Dr Burke is based in Echuca, and said irrigated crops were out of the ground, and those dryland crops which were sown ahead of the latest rain were also up and away.

That included parts of the northern Mallee, which had 10mm last week.

“Some people have sown some canola but not all of it, and are waiting to put in the last couple of paddocks in before the rain.

“There’s a little bit of anxiety there, but average yields are very much achievable even with germination in mid-June.”

Dr Burke said the benefits of earlier sowing have been demonstrated in the past 10 years and people were “a lot more comfortable sowing dry” these days.

“The advantage of sowing earlier is the crop isn’t finishing in the peak heat, but it can be more susceptible to frost; that’s the trade-off.

“If crops do get frosted, they can be cut for hay.

Dr Burke said mice were of concern, and growers in Victoria’s western regions were baiting as a precaution.

“In no-till situations in the west of the state with soft soils, we bait more years than not.

“A lot of those fields that haven’t been grazed over summer are a higher feed source for mice.”

New South Wales

Topsoil moisture levels in NSW range from undesirably dry in the far south-west to sodden in parts of the north.

At Temora on the south-west slopes, Nutrien Ag Solutions agronomist Brendon McCullough said some areas south-west of Temora were “a bit marginal” on topsoil moisture, but the wider region was otherwise well advanced on planting.

Canola is well suited to planting from mid-April onwards, and its area is expected to be up on last year’s in all states in response to its strong prices and the early break in most regions.

“Canola area is above my expectations, and we’re missing a few pulses,” Mr McCullough said.

“People are chasing canola, and lupins, field peas and vetch are down in this area because of it.

“I’d say we’re 90pc done, and by the end of the week, we’d be just about finished,” Mr McCullough said of the total winter crop.

“There’s just barley and late-season wheat left to go, and everything’s gone in on time.”

The first widespread frosts of the season have settled in recent days, and Mr McCullough said they have damaged some canola seedlings in a few paddocks.

While mice are making their presence felt north of the Lachlan River, Mr McCullough said growers south of it were taking no chances with canola in particular, which is favoured by mice because of its high oil content.

“All canola country around here is pretty well baited, and there’s some perimeter baiting around cereals too.”

“At $60/ha for canola seed, another $6-$7/ha for baiting isn’t a bad move.

In northern NSW, some paddocks remain too wet to sow after very heavy rain in March and some subsequent showers and storms.

Nutrien Ag Solutions Narrabri agronomist Dylan Verrier said this week has been the first in many that some growers have been able to get on to country without getting bogged.

“Anyone who sowed before the last rain has crops that are all up and going well, and since the weekend, more people have got going.

“This week they’re having a proper crack at it, but there are still some areas that are quite wet to the west of Narrabri.”

They include the Cryon, Burren Junction and Rowena districts, while further west towards Walgett, planting is well advanced.

“Some people have got 80pc of their winter area to go.”

Mr Verrier said canola and early sown wheat have kicked off the winter seeding program.

“You might get frosted once in seven years if you sow wheat early, but we all know it gets hot in September, so people will sow early if they can to avoid the crop finishing then.

“Everyone with canola has it in and up, but it’s still a bit early for chickpeas; they will start early next week for growers who’ve got their wheat in.

“Anyone who hasn’t got wheat in already is prioritising that.”

“Any wheat that’s in looks really good, and it was a perfect start for the canola.”

Mr Verrier said growers were also harvesting the last of their sorghum and cotton, with autumn rain holding up their development and maturation.

“Cotton is generally later this year, and picking is halfway through as a general rule of thumb.


In southern Queensland, planting conditions range from ideal to a little too wet to access paddocks, and to finish harvesting summer crops.

AgForce grains president Brendan Taylor said the start for southern Queensland was the best seen since 2016.

“A lot of winter crop has been planted already, mostly longer-season wheats and barley which is very early in the planting window.”

“Some early chickpeas have gone in, but they’re more suited to late May or June planting, and Sunmax wheat has gone in because it’s the longer season variety.

“Lots of crop is out of the ground and has had 20mm of rain.

“We’re getting rain behind the planter, which is just magic.”

Dalby Rural Supplies agronomist Andrew Johnston said growers were happy to take the rain, even if it had created some harvesting headaches.

Parts of the Darling- and Western-Downs had 15-50mm of rain last week on top of earlier falls.

“People have got cotton ready to pick and mungbeans ready to harvest, and sorghum as well,” Mr Johnston said.

“The rain hasn’t been good for those crops, but for the winter crop, it’s been beautiful rain.”

Mr Johnston said plenty of cereals have already gone in.

“Early wheat is looking very good after the rain, and there’s a substantial wheat, barley and chickpea plant happening, plus a bit of double cropping going on with chickpeas after early harvested sorghum.”

While some areas are in need of further falls to fill the soil profile ahead of the usually dry winter, Mr Johnston said the outlook was bright.

“We’re in a good position, and we can now start to look forward to a very promising winter.”

In central Queensland JB Ag Services agronomist Josh Bell said winter-crop planting was just about finished.

“Rainfall has been very patchy, and those that got the opportunity to plant early wheat in mid-April put it in then,” Mr Bell said, adding that cooler-than-usual weather in recent weeks has helped crops germinate and establish.

“Moisture levels haven’t died away as quickly as they have in other seasons.

“Most people started with wheat and moved into chickpeas, but there are still some growers out there attempting to get the last of their chickpeas in.”

CQ’s sorghum harvest has just started, and yields are better in areas north and east of Clermont, where the heavier summer and early autumn rain has provided more subsoil moisture for winter crops.

“All the wheat and chickpea crops at the moment look quite good, and they’ll look good until the middle of June.

“If we can get one or two rain events before then that would help a lot.”

CQ wheat and chickpeas are the first winter crops to be harvested in Australia from September.



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