Australia lifts wheat hopes - but clamour for chickpeas curbs canola


Australia nudged higher its forecast for wheat production this year, but cut its forecast for output of the likes of barley, canola and oats, in a report which flagged a clamour for chickpeas, besides dryness threats.

The official Abares crop bureau pegged at 24.19m tonnes its forecast for the Australian wheat harvest this year - an upgrade of 214,000 tonnes, although a figure still below last year's record 35.11m tonne crop, which was boosted by near-ideal growing conditions.

However, the bureau downgraded by 373,000 tonnes to 3.32m tonnes the forecast for the canola harvest, putting it further behind last year's crop, which was also elevated by bumper yields

Canola sowings were still seen rising this year, encouraged by relatively firm prices compared with those of grains, but with the seedings estimate trimmed by some 150,000 hectares.

And the bureau cut forecasts for crops such as barley, field peas and oats too, with the barley output figure downgraded by nearly 400,000 tonnes.

Rainfall worries

Abares noted the dry conditions which Nidera Australia warned last week had curtailed sowings prospects for canola, which has a relatively early sowings window.

While rainfall was "generally well above average in cropping regions" in March in Queensland and New South Wales, typically the second-ranked wheat-growing state, precipitation fell "below average" there last month.

In Western Australia, the top wheat-growing state, "autumn rainfall was below average in most cropping regions… which led to unfavourable planting conditions during autumn and early winter".

Meanwhile, official meteorologists see winter rainfall as "likely to be below average in most cropping regions".

On the pulse

However, the bureau's forecasts also flagged the enhanced attraction of chickpeas to growers, amid prices buoyed by demand from India, where logistical issues have been blamed for hampering the distribution of a larger domestic crop to southern consumers.

The Indian harvest has been pegged at 9.1m tonnes, a rise of 2.0m tonnes year on year, and recovering from successive years of weather-depressed levels.

New South Wales-based crop merchant AgVantage said that while the Australian chickpea market has "quietened down since the commencement of Ramadan", prices as delivered to Narrabri "still remain positive with bids at Aus$1,050 for current crop and 2017-18 crop bid around Aus$810".

'Higher expected returns'

Abares said that in both New South Wales and Queensland, the top chickpea-growing states, sowings would rise to record highs, "in response to higher expected returns compared to cereal crops", with growers favouring the pulse to the extent of ignoring best agronomic practice.

The rise in chickpea sowings comes "despite concerns about the risk of disease posed by not strictly following recommended crop rotations", the bureau said.

Abares lifted by 320,000 hectares to 1.10m hectares, its forecast for Australia's chickpea sowings for 2017-18 – a figure up from just 425,000 hectares in 2014-15.

The harvest forecast was upgraded by 470,000 tonnes to 1.42m tonnes.

The estimate for the 2016-17 crop was also hiked, by nearly 450,000 tonnes to 1.85m tonnes, on ideas that sowings had far exceeded previous ideas.


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