A sea of the ripening wheat…

Peter McMeekin, Nidera Australia , October 31, 2017

THE AUSTRALIAN winter crop harvest is finally ramping up with headers now rolling in all mainland states. Progress is obviously quite varied from region to region with harvest completed in some regions and many weeks from commencement in others. The staggered planting program earlier in the year is also manifesting itself in substantial spreads in crop maturity within regions. In the eastern states, this is playing havoc with the traditional procession of harvesting contractors from Queensland to Victoria.

Nidera Australia, Peter McMeekin

The early harvest action in Western Australian has primarily been in the Esperance and Geraldton port zones, making up around 95 per cent (pc) of receivals to date into the bulk handling system. Up till late last week, state-wide receivals totalled less than 100,000t with canola making up more than 80pc of those deliveries and barley around 14pc.

The first South Australian new crop deliveries were made in late September. Harvest progress since however has been very slow, with wet weather hampering operations in some area and crops maturing slower than expected after the wet start to spring. Harvest thus far has been concentrated in the northern and western parts of the Eyre Peninsula and around Port Pirie in the Mid North region of the state. As of late last week, receivals were still less than 100,000t.

Across the border in the Garden State, the 2017 harvest is certainly in its infancy. Some early crops have been reaped in the northern and western reaches of the Mallee with barley dominating the discussions. Nevertheless, the peak of the Victorian harvest is still weeks away.

The story is quite similar in southern New South Wales. There are isolated pockets where the headers have been rolling and windrowing of canola is certainly in full swing but it is far too early to get a read on the effects of the hard finish across that part of the state.

Jumping to central Queensland where many growers north of Emerald have been finished harvest for weeks. Unfortunately, for those yet to finish, harvest progress has been stymied by regular rain events throughout October. This has also had an impact on quality. Most post rain samples of chickpeas are being downgraded due to a high level of splits and/or detection of mould, both of which are a huge issue from an export viewpoint.

In southern Queensland and northern western New South Wales, many paddocks are ready to go but it has been a real struggle to get some harvest momentum in recent weeks. The poor season in that part of the world means one uninterrupted week of harvest activity will be the difference between the start and the finish for many. While not devoid of storms, the weather outlook for most areas appears to be a little more conducive to harvest in the week ahead.

Grain quality will be the interesting question. There are certainly chickpea trucks arriving at silos and packing facilities on the Downs with one, or a number of defects that can lead to downgrading. Poor colour, staining, frost damage, shrivelled and wrinkled seeds, and mould have all been detected and the market is keeping a close eye on quality as the harvest unfolds.

There are also reports of weather-induced quality issues in cereals. However, the extent of the issue is largely being hidden by the domestic supply and demand deficit in southern Queensland. To the domestic consumer, any grade of wheat or barley is acceptable, as long as it meets their minimum receival specification. In most cases, this will be SFW1 and F1 respectively, although individual end users may accept lower grades at a discount if they can make it work in their ration.

Bids for SFW1 and F1 delivered Downs are quoted at around A$325/t and A$315/t for January delivery respectively. This about parity with track Brisbane for APW multigrade and F1 barley values. This is certainly a huge incentive for the southern Queensland and northern New South Wales grower to fill their on-farm storages and find prompt homes for the overflow as the feed grain market shores up supply for the coming year. Any downgrading of high protein wheat due to weather damage will only add to the supply equation and reduce the drawing arc from New South Wales.

Harvest is the culmination of a lot of hard work and it is certainly wonderful to see the crops ripen and payday finally arrive. As Banjo Paterson wrote many years ago; Mountain or river or shining star, there’s never a sight can beat, away on the sky-line stretching far, a sea of the ripening wheat.

Source: Nidera Australia Pty Ltd, a member of the COFCO International Group.

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