Cropping

Outlook points to next northern feedgrain deficit

Liz Wells, June 12, 2019

This Spartacus barley crop on Dave Gourley’s farm at Edgeroi in north west NSW has gotten off to a strong start. Photo: Mitch Cuell

ALL EYES in the domestic grain trade are focusing on the winter-crop production outlook for central and northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, which for the third year running looks unlikely to produce enough wheat and barley to cover local requirements.

It means grain shipped from Western and South Australia is likely to continue to flow into Brisbane at least to supply poultry and other feedmills within 200 kilometres of the coast.

Wheat and barley grown in central and northern NSW and southern Queensland has traditionally been used locally to supply the vast majority of Australia’s cattle feedlots, and the bulk of its flour mills, with any surplus going to export.

Based on area currently planted and the seasonal outlook, large-volume new-crop wheat exports out of Brisbane and Newcastle are looking unlikely, as mills again seem destined to pay a premium to keep the grain at home.

As outlined in ABARES’ Australian crop report released today, some parts of NSW and Queensland — namely southern NSW and Central Queensland — are faring well in terms of getting crops in on time and with adequate moisture.

The Liverpool Plains between Newcastle and Narrabri in NSW and Queensland’s Maranoa district have also planted most or all of their intended area into good moisture.

However, the north west plains of NSW and much of Queensland’s eastern Darling Downs are yet to plant their intended wheat and barley areas, and the planting window which opened six to eight weeks ago will close in three to four weeks.

B&W Rural Moree-based agronomist Brad Donald said the preference for barley over wheat was growing, as its price outlook based on local feedgrain demand remained strong, and it was not as susceptible as wheat to crown rot under moisture stress, and could be harvested earlier than wheat.

“There’s a lot of barley going in,” Mr Donald said.

“People are keen to get some kind of stubble cover on to the ground, particularly if they had chickpeas in last year or the year before, and they don’t have anything on their paddocks to help them retain moisture.”

In a bumper year like 2016, the north west plains of NSW can easily produce three million tonnes (Mt) of wheat to supply domestic and export buyers, but Mr Donald said minimal plantings had taken place to date.

Unless at least 50 millimetres of rain falls in coming weeks, trade sources estimate the paddocks of NSW north of Gilgandra and west of the Newell Highway could produce as little as 300,000t.

“There’s very little sown west of the Newell Highway.

“Maybe five per cent of paddocks have gone in…in the hope of getting some rainfall.

“Around Edgeroi and Bellata, there’s a little bit in, and south of Moree, there might be 20pc to one third of intended area planted.”

Mr Donald said more had been planted in pockets close to and north of the Queensland border, and north east of Moree.

“Around Crooble and Croppa Creek and up to North Star, there might be 60-70pc of the crop in with okay prospects, and things are much better from Gunnedah to Breeza where they had 80-100 millimetres of rain in March.”

Crop   Hectares Yield t/ha Tonnes Area +/- Tonnes +/-
NSW wheat 2,500,000 1.90 4,750,000 +39% +164%
NSW barley 750,000 1.95 1,463,000 +25% +132%
NSW canola 400,000 1.30 520,000 +111% +242%
NSW chickpeas 100,000 1.23 123,000 +450% +560%
Qld wheat 460,000 1.50 690,000 +15% +73%
Qld barley 65,000 1.31 85,000 -7% -10%
Qld chickpeas 180,000 1.10 198,000 -10% +4%

Table 1: ABARES area and production estimates for key NSW and Queensland winter crops planted in 2019, with forecast changes from the previous year.

ABARES’ NSW outlook

The latest ABARES crop report cites the outlook for below-average winter rainfall as based on the June-to-August projection issued by the Bureau of Meteorology on 30 May.

ABARES said depending on the timing and quantity of rainfall and the amount of soil moisture present at the end of autumn, the impact of this would differ across regions.

“There is a significant chance that most areas unlikely to exceed median winter rainfall will receive rainfall totals sufficient to sustain crops that established successfully through until spring,” the report said.

“Crops in regions with average to above-average levels of soil moisture will likely be in a good position at the beginning of spring.

“However, crop prospects in regions with low to very low levels of soil moisture will likely deteriorate.

“This means crop prospects are presently strongest in southern cropping regions.”

ABARES said the area planted to wheat in NSW was forecast to increase by 39pc in 2019–20 to 2.5 million hectares (Mha).

Although wheat can still be planted in parts of NSW, ABARES said rainfall in the next few weeks would be needed for any further planting to take place.

It said prospects for wheat crops were currently better in southern NSW than in central and northern areas.

The area planted to barley is forecast to increase by 25pc in 2019-20 to 750,000 hectares.

Production is forecast to more than double to 1.5Mt, reflecting an increase in area planted and a forecast increase in the average yield from the poor-yielding 2018-19 barley crop.

The area planted to canola is forecast to be 400,000ha in 2019-20, with the majority in southern NSW, reflecting more favourable seasonal conditions during autumn.

Average yields are forecast to increase from last year’s very poor canola results, and production is forecast to rise to 520,000t.

Queensland outlook

ABARES has forecast winter-crop area in Queensland at 752,000ha, up from last year, mainly due to an increase in area planted to wheat in Central Queensland, where most Queensland winter crop production is expected to occur this season.

Total winter-crop tonnage in Queensland is forecast at 1Mt, well below the 10-year average of 1.8Mt.

Yields for all winter crops are forecast to average higher than last year’s, largely because of reasonable crop prospects in Central Queensland.

Area planted to wheat is forecast to increase by 15pc to around 460,000ha, and the average yield is forecast to increase because most of the wheat crop is expected to be in Central Queensland, where yields are expected to improve from 2018-19.

Area planted to barley is forecast to fall by 7pc to 65,000ha due to lower-than-average rainfall in southern Queensland, where most barley is grown in Queensland, and barley production is expected to fall by 10pc to around 85,000t.

 

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