Bumper winter crop harvest expected

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High levels of rainfall for most of Australia in autumn may set farmers up for a good crop yield. High levels of rainfall for most of Australia in autumn may set farmers up for a good crop yield. High levels of rainfall for most of Australia in autumn may set farmers up for a good crop yield.
Eastern Australia’s main wheat and sheep farming zones had their second‐wettest winter on record (Source: BoM) Eastern Australia’s main wheat and sheep farming zones had their second‐wettest winter on record (Source: BoM) Eastern Australia’s main wheat and sheep farming zones had their second‐wettest winter on record (Source: BoM)
This map shows key farming areas as having high to average levels of upper layer soil moisture (Surface to 0.1 metres, Source: BoM) This map shows key farming areas as having high to average levels of upper layer soil moisture (Surface to 0.1 metres, Source: BoM) This map shows key farming areas as having high to average levels of upper layer soil moisture (Surface to 0.1 metres, Source: BoM)

Extremely high levels of rainfall are expected to contribute to a forecasted 16 percent increase in winter crop production across Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) latest Australian Crop Report.


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The quarterly report assesses crop-production prospects for major field crops, and is based largely on seasonal weather conditions. It shows that winter crop production is set to increase across all states for the first time since 2007-2008.

Seasonal conditions in most cropping regions during winter were very favourable, and crops were generally in very good condition at the beginning of spring, according to ABARES. But crops were waterlogged by very high winter rainfall in parts of New South Wales and far southern Western Australia, which is expected to constrain yields in these regions.

ABARES acting executive director Peter Gooday says winter crop production forecasts were very positive, due to very favourable seasonal conditions over winter and a favourable outlook for spring rainfall.

"Total winter crop production is forecast to rise by 16 percent in 2016 to 17 to a record 46.1 million tonnes, driven by significant increases in forecast production in Western Australia and Victoria," Gooday says.

"Seasonal conditions in most cropping regions during winter were very favourable, and crops are generally in very good condition at the beginning of spring.

"In the eastern states, including South Australia, winter rainfall was average to above average and in Western Australia was more variable but timely.

"In some regions, particularly in parts of New South Wales and far southern Western Australia, yields could be constrained by waterlogging, which resulted from very high winter rainfall."

Wheat and barley production is up 16 and 11 percent respectively, and both are forecast to have the second most productive season on record. Canola production is forecast to be the third highest on record (up 23 percent), according to ABARES.

 

Summer crops on the rise too

Forecasts for summer crops are also positive, with the total area of planted to summer crops set to rise by 21 percent in 2016 to 2017 to around 1.4 million ha.

"Forecast increases in area planted to rice and cotton expected to more than offset a forecast fall in area planted to grain sorghum," Gooday says.

"Planting conditions for dryland crops are expected to be favourable, and supplies of irrigation water for irrigated crops are expected to be higher than in 2015-16.

"Total summer crop production is forecast to rise by 28 percent to close to 4.8 million tonnes.

"Overall, the last quarter has delivered well-needed production increases across the board, with an optimistic outlook for summer."

This forecast production will only be achieved if spring rainfall is sufficient and timely, especially in regions of Western Australia that had average to below average winter rainfall.

Additionally, crops in some regions of Australia have developed relatively shallow root systems —which will not readily access stores of lower layer soil moisture. Shallow root systems may reach stores of upper layer soil moisture, but this can disappear quickly in hot and dry conditions.

 

Cotton and rice are the stars

The area planted to cotton is forecast to rise by 76 percent in 2016–17 to 475 000ha. This is in response to higher world cotton prices, higher water levels in dams serving Australian cotton‐growing regions and favourable soil moisture in regions suitable for growing dryland cotton, ABARES says.

Average storage level of public irrigation dams serving Australia’s cotton‐growing regions in September was around 50 percent of capacity, compared with 35 percent at the same time in 2015.

Australian cotton production is forecast to rise by 51 percent in 2016–17. But the average cotton yield is expected to fall, because of a forecast increase in area planted to dryland cotton, which has a substantially lower average yield than irrigated cotton.

Area planted to rice is forecast to rise to 90 000 ha in 2016−17, almost four times higher than in the previous season. This reflects a substantial rise in the supply of irrigation water available to rice producers. Rice production is also forecast to increase by almost four times.

 

Impact of climate

A wetter than average winter across much of Australia increased soil moisture and provided good conditions for growth and development of crops.

Autumn 2016 had variable rainfall but was Australia’s warmest autumn on record. Winter 2016 was Australia’s second‐wettest winter on record. Rainfall in most cropping regions in each of the individual months was well above average.

The main exceptions were some cropping regions in Western Australia, where winter rainfall was generally below average.

 

Temperature outlook to November 2016

Maximum and minimum temperatures are likely to be above average in Victorian and South Australian cropping regions.               

Meanwhile, cropping regions in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia have roughly equal chances of above or below average maximum and minimum temperatures.        

La Nina is likely to develop during late spring or summer.  However, climate models suggest that it won’t be as strong as the most recent one, of 2010 to 2012, which was one of the strongest on record.       

During La Nina   events, spring rainfall is typically above  average in eastern Australia and the first rains of the tropical wet season often arrive earlier than normal in northern Australia.


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