Winter crops exceed expectations: ABARES

By: Anthony Wingard

Presented by

Production is higher among all winter crops, while resurgent summer crops will likely be below average, according to new data from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES).

Australia is expected to export around 21 million tonnes of wheat in 2020-21, a figure more than double the 2019-20 export figures. Photo Courtesy of AdobeStock

The 2020-21 winter harvest has the potential to be the second largest on record, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES).

The bureau’s Australian Crop Report - February 2021, indicates an 89 per cent increase in crop production in the 2020-21 winter harvest from the previous year, with over 55.2 million tonnes of crops recorded.

These figures have already exceeded prior industry estimates from ABARES, which forecasted a 76 per cent increase in its December quarter 2020 Commodities report and now looms as the largest harvest since 2016-17, where over 56 million tonnes of harvest were produced.

Across the country, winter crops accounted for 23 per cent more land than in 2019-20, as all major winter crops saw an uptick in area planted to a total of 22.66 million hectares; again the highest since 2016-17.

Acting ABARES Executive Director Jared Greenville says figures from the winter harvest are encouraging as the industry continues to recover from three years of lower production, influenced sizeably by droughts.

"This is a 7.4 per cent growth from the forecast presented in the December 2020 crop report," Greenville says.

"The upward revision was the result of yields continuing to exceed expectations progressed."

The drastic upturn for winter harvest figures came following increases in production across all major winter crops.

Australia’s wheat production in particular was a large beneficiary and saw an increase of 120 per cent in 2020-21 to 33.3 million tonnes.

As a result, Australia is expected to export around 21 million tonnes of wheat in 2020-21, a figure more than double the 2019-20 export figures.

The production of canola too saw a steady increase with by 4.1 million tonnes cultivated – a 74 per increase from 2019-20, while barley also increased steadily by 45 per cent to 13.1 million tonnes.

Together, the production of the three crops were further amplified by a rise in planted areas with wheat (+27.17 per cent), barley (+9.18) and canola (+31.52) all expanding across the country.

ABARES also indicated the 2020-21 summer harvesting season will also be much improved from 2019-20, which was severely hampered by drought, but still considerably below the average.

Seasonal conditions indicate the summer harvest production may benefit from the La Niña weather pattern which will bring above average rainfall to much of eastern and northern Australia until February 2021, generating favourable growing conditions for summer crops.

While La Niña weather patterns may not be true indicators of agricultural performance as has been the case in previous La Niña patterns, ABARES indicates heavy rainfall across December and January may benefit late sown summer crops.

Over 1.04 million hectares of summer crops  are estimated to have been planted, almost three times that of the 2019-20 summer period. But while winter harvests have yielded near-record highs, the summer harvest, while responding to the down 2019-20 year, is still 13 per cent lower than the ten-year average, largely influenced by a below average planted area.

These figures are largely due to unfavourable season conditions experienced during spring, while some flood affected regions are expected to fallow across the summer in anticipation for the upcoming winter period. 

Greenville says the below average planted area follows seasonal changes across the eastern states, despite total crop production projecting upward from 2019-20.

"Summer crop production is forecast to increase to 3.3 million tonnes in 2020–21," Greenville said.

"[The] Planted area remains below average due to limited planting in New South Wales on the back of large winter crop plantings and a poor start to the summer crop season in some areas of Queensland."

Summer crops such as grain sorghum are expected to increase by 409 per cent to 1.5 million tonnes following a 259 per cent growth in area planted. Similarly, cotton will be planted across 295,000 hectares (395 per cent) following improved soil moisture and a greater supply of irrigation water in cotton-growing regions.

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