National wheat estimate shrinks, barley lifts

Liz Wells, October 18, 2023

This wheat crop at Hannaford in Queensland’s Maranoa yielded 2.8t/ha, a pleasing result considering it received only 25mm of in-crop rainfall. Photo: @walfarms

AN AVERAGE of estimates from leading forecasters has put the Australian wheat crop now being harvested at 26.1 million tonnes (Mt), down 4 percent from the 27.15Mt as indicated by previous estimates.

Close to 20pc of Australia’s total winter-cropping area has now been harvested to yield less than 10pc of the total wheat crop expected, and much less of the barley.

Forecasters’ changes to barley estimates have been mixed and moderate, reflecting the benefit of some rain and mild conditions on the crop grown predominantly in Australia’s higher latitudes where the impact of the current El Niño event has been more moderate.

The average of estimates for barley now sits at 10.82Mt, up 3pc from 10.55Mt based on previous estimates.

Wheat harvesting in Central Queensland is close to finished, and is making speedy progress in Western Australia’s Geraldton zone, where yields have been below average because of limited in-crop rain.

Harvest is in full swing in southern Queensland and northern and outer central New South Wales, where yields have generally been average or below.

Rain earlier this month in some parts of southern Australia has either underpinned yield potential or improved it in later districts, and some crops, particularly in Victoria, have above-average wheat and barley yields in sight.

Barley previous Barley current Wheat previous Wheat current
ABARES Jun 6 – 9.9Mt Sep 5 – 10.5Mt Jun 6 – 26.2Mt Sep 5 – 25.4Mt
IKON Aug 31 – 12Mt Sep 31 – 11.6Mt Aug 31 – 30.4Mt Sep 31 – 28.6Mt
Lachstock Sep 7 – 10.3Mt Oct 6 – 10.4Mt Aug 31 – 26Mt Sep 29 – 25.1Mt
Rabobank NQ Oct 17 – 11.9Mt NQ Oct 17 – 26.9Mt
USDA Sep 12 – 10Mt Oct 13 – 9.7Mt Sep 12 – 26Mt Oct 13 – 24.5Mt
Average 10.55Mt 10.82Mt 27.15Mt 26.1Mt

Table 1: Previous and current estimates in million tonnes from leading forecasters.

In its October Supply and Demand Estimates Report released last week, USDA cut its outlook for Australia’s 2023-24 wheat exports by 1.5Mt to 17.5Mt.

On barley, USDA has cut its estimate of Australia’s 2022-23 exports by 500,000t to 7Mt, ostensibly because domestic use has turned out to be higher in the face of increased domestic stockfeed demand caused by dry conditions in the north.

USDA has this month cut 300,000t from its estimate for 2023-24 barley exports, now seen at 5.2Mt, and production, now at 9.7Mt.

Mixed bags in WA, SA, NSW

WA and South Australia have some districts where above-average yields are possible, but most districts in both states are looking at average or below-average.

An insight into WA’s prospects will appear on Friday when the Grains Industry of WA releases its monthly crop report.

While wheat quality in crops to be harvested in SA and WA is generally expected to be sound, barley protein in excess of the allowable maximum of 12pc for the top two malting grades could be an issue, as is often seen in seasons with a dry and fast finish.

Quality from grain in northern NSW is mixed, with crown rot evident in some bread wheat and durum crops planted into last year’s wheat or durum stubble containing considerable amounts of fusarium fungus.

Some wheat and barley crops in southern NSW have above-average yield potential.

Hay flurry settles

Some crops in NSW and Qld have been cut for hay because of their low grain-yield potential, and strong prices and early demand from graziers and opportunity feedlotters for hay to supplement dwindling paddock feed.

With near-term hay demand now satisfied, and struggling crops bolting past the milky dough stage when wheat and barley is ideally baled, unplanned hay-making is seen as over in most districts.

Feed Central managing director Tim Ford said rain earlier this month that fell in parts of SA, Vic and NSW was enough to save some crops from the mower.

“They were going to make more money for hay than from being taking through to grain,” Mr Ford said.

“There has been really strong demand for hay, and that’s been encouraging some people to not take crops through for grain.”

The rule of thumb is that 1t/ha of grain is equivalent to 2t/ha of hay when a cereal crop is cut at the flowering or milky dough stage, and a dry fortnight and some hot weather on the plains has diminished potential bulk in hay.

“It’s almost getting too late to cut crops in western and northern NSW, where they’re too far advanced to make good hay.”

Mixed farmers in NSW and Victoria are generally cutting more cereals for hay than they normally would to fill up their own sheds after last year’s sodden and largely unsuccessful season for making quality hay.

Graziers are also looking to fill up their hay sheds, and adding to the demand seen from dedicated and opportunity feedlots.

“A lot of hay’s being traded over the fence, and some of it’s going to feedlots…who are generally looking for a 12-month delivery contract.

Victoria looking good

Victoria, where only a very few early crops have been harvested to date, is on track to produce average or better yields.

Its crop conditions are the most uniform of any mainland state, although dry and/or frost-affected patches exist in both the Mallee and Wimmera regions.

In Rabobank’s 2023/24 Australian Winter Crop Forecast released yesterday, RaboResearch associate analyst Edward McGeoch said Victoria was the only state expected to harvest a winter crop bigger than last year’s, where flooding caused considerable losses.

“Parts of Victoria have seen further strong rainfall across cropping regions in early October which will play a significant role in determining if these targets will be achieved or exceeded,” Mr McGeoch said.

Nutrien Ag’s Rupanyup-based agronomist Brad Jackson said late frost could impact some cereal crops, but average or better yields generally looked achievable from the Wimmera harvest in November and December.

“As soon as subsoil moisture runs out, and if we get a run of high 20s early 30s, maybe we’ll be starting harvest in the middle of next month.”

“I anticipate it might be a couple of weeks earlier than normal, but if it comes in warm to hot, it’ll come in even earlier than that.”


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