Early August rainfall boosts winter crop production outlook

Grain production potential has improved across much of the nation after recent falls of much-needed rain in many parts of most cropping states.
Grain production potential has improved across much of the nation after recent falls of much-needed rain in many parts of most cropping states.

Australia's winter crop production prospects have received a massive boost as the heavens finally opened across a significant portion of the continent's farming districts in the past 10 days.

Several frontal systems rolled over the nation, delivering much-needed moisture to many crops that were starting to feel thirsty after receiving below average rainfall in June and July.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has been forecasting a wetter than average August for most of the southern half of the country - and the rain during the past week and a half has been a very welcome affirmation of that sentiment.

According to the BoM, the tropical Pacific Ocean is projected to approach La Nina levels in early spring. At the same time, warmer than average waters are likely to occur in much of the central and eastern Indian Ocean.

The Pacific Ocean influence is strongest in the wetter September to November outlook for eastern Australia.

Cooling of sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific in recent weeks is an excellent meteorological signal that the wet will continue into the spring, as the BoM has forecast.

In Queensland, some meaningful rainfalls were received across most of the inner Darling Downs late last week. But registrations in the gauge were less than had been hoped for - and were lower and more scattered further west.

Falls in Central Queensland also disappointed, and with harvest only a month away it is almost too late to make a big difference.

New South Wales has been the biggest winner thus far, with almost all of that state's cropping regions receiving at least 15 millimetres of rain - double that in some areas - and with more expected on the horizon.

Much of NSW was already an oasis, and the turnaround in crop production will be phenomenal compared to the past couple of seasons.

The state is now on-track for above-average yields across a well above average planted area. The most dramatic changes are in the central west, north east and north western parts.

According to DataFarming's Agri-Intelligence platform, the actively growing crop area in these NSW regions at the start of August was about 4.3 million hectares - compared to less than 800,000ha at the same time last year.

Rainfall registrations in the past 10 days in Victoria were generally above 15mm across most of the state's cropping areas.

The Mallee crops were parched and showing signs of moisture stress before the change moved through and delivered upwards of 25mm of rain to most of the region's farmers.

Victoria was the 'flag bearer' in terms of eastern states grain production in 2019 and this season's viable cropping area is currently tracking a very similar path to last year.

The August rainfall registrations in South Australia have been disappointing thus far. The northern reaches of that state's arable area are dry and the crops are stressed.

SA growers are desperate for a decent drop.

More falls are forecast for the next week and that will be critical to the prospects of average grain production in the state this season.

The actively growing cropping area in SA is currently tracking a similar path to 2019, so the potential is there if the rains arrive.

Western Australia has also been dry. But the falls month-to-date have been better than in SA.

The southern parts of WA's Albany and Esperance port zones had significant rainfalls early last week, and most of the gaps were filled-in over the weekend when a second frontal system entered the state.

But there are still a few dry pockets in the eastern cropping areas that are feeling the pinch and getting desperate for a moisture top-up.

That said, production prospects for WA are well ahead of the same time last year.

Analysis of satellite data via the Agri-Intelligence platform suggests that the actively growing crop area in WA at the start of the month was just over 5 million hectares - compared to about 2.7 million hectares in early August last year.

That area is significantly lower than in NSW, and the soil root zone moisture status in the west is also far inferior - suggesting that the country's typical 'breadbasket' will move east in 2020 for the first time since 2016.

This production swing will relieve WA and SA of their roles of being major domestic grain suppliers to the eastern states.

This will free-up millions of tonnes of wheat and barley for export to traditional customers throughout Asia and the Middle East.

Southern Queensland is a vast domestic demand hub, and the supply picture will revert to more 'normal' logistics pathways after harvest.

The drawing arc will extend into NSW, rather than coastal shipments from the traditional export states, as a result of the recovery in east coast grain production.

In the past two years, about 5.75 million tonnes of grain that would typically have been exported has been shipped around the Australian coastline to satisfy domestic demand in NSW and Queensland.

Almost 70 per cent, or 4 million tonnes, of that made its way into the Sunshine State for food and livestock consumption.

The domestic grain market plummeted last week as: the forecast of rain became a reality; the weaker Green Back pushed the Australian dollar higher; and United States futures markets continued a recent retreat.

The futures fall was on the back of favorable crop and weather reports out of major grain exporters Russia, Canada and Australia.

Both old and new crop prices took a hit as the Australian grower and trade turned seller.

In WA, new crop Kwinana Australian Premium White (APW) wheat and F1 barley fell AU$20/tonne and AU$11/t respectively through the week.

The falls in SA were lower, with new crop Adelaide APW down AU$17/t and F1 AU$7/t lower by the close of business on Friday.

In Victoria, new crop APW slid by AU$13/t and F1 lost AU$16/t across the week.

Queensland production prospects may be poor, but the weight of a massive NSW cereal crop pressured new crop delivered Darling Downs values lower. Feed barley was AU$11/t softer, and SFW wheat was down AU$15/t by week's end.

Global wheat production forecasts actually received a surprise boost last week, with the news Canadian farmers are on-track to harvest a record 39 million tonnes of wheat this campaign, surpassing the 2013 record of 37.6 million tonnes.

This added to the price pain, as carry-out stocks in the major exporters now appear to be growing while the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on worldwide demand continues to cloud the true state of the global balance sheet.

The market will be very focused on what production and demand changes the US Department of Agriculture makes in this week's World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report.

This story Thirsty crops get a good drink first appeared on The Land.

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