Australian winter crop set to be second-biggest on record – ABARES

Higher-than-expected yields have led ABARES to increase its December 2020 production forecast by 7.4%, but summer planting will still be lower than average.

National winter crop production in Australia in 2020-21 is set to be the second largest harvest on record, according to a new report from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.

In its Australian crop report – February 2021, published this week, ABARES estimated overall crop production will have increased by 89 per cent in 2020–21 to 55.2 million tons, up from 29.3 million tons in 2019-20 and 7.4 percent higher than the most recent forecast issued in December 2020.

“The upward revision was the result of yields continuing to exceed expectations as harvest progressed, particularly in New South Wales and Western Australia,” ABARES acting executive director Jared Greenville said in a statement, with favorable climatic conditions over the winter boosting production.

The change in fortunes for growers in New South Wales has been especially stark.

In the drought-hit 2019-20 season, 3,339 kilotonnes of crops were estimated to have been produced, compared with the estimate for this season of 18,683 kilotonnes – a rise of 460 percent. The area of land planted with winter crops in the state almost doubled year-on-year, too.

The 2020-21 summer crop season is forecast to be much improved on the previous year, thanks to the recovery from drought, but will still be well below average levels.

“Seasonal conditions in Queensland and northern NSW were mixed for the planting of summer crops. Below average spring rainfall in most summer cropping regions prevented the planting intentions of summer crops from being realized,” the report said.

“Planting in NSW was also constrained by the lack of fallow land following an exceptional winter crop season. Heavy rainfall in late December and January have benefitted late-sown summer crops and increased the area planted to crops in regions that have a later planting window, especially central Queensland. However, heavy rainfall in early summer led to soil being too wet for planting crops in some parts of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales.

“Growers in some of these flood-affected regions are expected to fallow their land in preparation for the upcoming winter cropping season.”

Planting of summer crops is now largely complete and is estimated to cover 1.03 million hectares, nearly three times larger than the 2019-20 season, but is a downward revision of 6.1 percent from ABARES’ December 2020 forecast because of unexpected unfavorable conditions in the interim.

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

“This is around 13 percent below the 10-year average to 2019–20 because 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.

“Area planted to grain sorghum is estimated to have increased by 258 percent in 2020–21 to 511,000 hectares. Production is forecast to increase by 409 percent to 1.5 million tons.

“Area planted to cotton is estimated to have risen by 395 percent in 2020–21 to 295,000 hectares, driven by improved soil moisture and greater supply of irrigation water in most cotton-growing regions.

“Yields are forecast to be below average due to a higher-than-average share of dryland cotton in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. Dryland cotton yields less than irrigated cotton.”