Dryness prompts sharp cut to Australian sorghum hopes


Dryness has depressed Australia’s sorghum harvest potential, ditching hopes for an above-average crop, even while proving less damaging than had been thought for already-reaped barley, canola and wheat harvests.

Abares, the official Australian crop bureau, slashed by 513,000 tonnes to 1.47m tonnes its forecast for the country’s newly-started sorghum harvest in 2017-18, citing dry and warm weather in the east coast states, New South Wales and Queensland, where nearly of the nation’s crop is grown.

Prospects “have deteriorated over the last two months” for summer crops as a whole, Abares said, although sorghum was the only one to see a notable output downgrade.

“Below-average rainfall and above average temperatures in summer cropping regions curtailed crop planting in the latter part of the planting window and lowered yield prospects for dryland crops.

“Soil moisture levels are well below average in many regions and sufficient and timely rainfall over the remainder of the season will be critical for the development of dryland crops in these regions.”

Sowings disappoint

At 1.47m tonnes, Australia’s sorghum output this season would represent a marked improvement on last season’s 24-year low of 1.02m tonnes.

However, it would remain below the average which, for the five years ahead of the dryness-hurt 2016-17 crop, stood at 1.95m tonnes.

The Abares downgrade reflected cuts to both New South Wales and Queensland harvests - down largely to ideas that sowings, at 501,000 hectares, the third lowest figure of the past 20 years, had fallen 135,000 hectares short of initial hopes.

“Although area planted has increased from last year, it is below initial planting intentions,” Abares said of New South Wales prospects.

“Soil moisture levels were well below average at the start of summer, and significant widespread rainfall was needed for planting intentions to be realised.

“However, December and January rainfall was below average.”

‘Prices could remain high’

The Abares figures follow a rise in prices of the grain spurred by crop worries, with values in the Australian port of Newcastle at Aus$305 a tonne as of last week, up Aus$35 a tonne so far this year, according to data from merchant AgVantage.

“Sorghum is now the word of the month as growers from the Darling Downs South to Narrabri are getting in to their paddocks or edging closer,” the New South Wales broker said last week, referring to the wind up of harvest.

Prices delivered at Brisbane, at Aus$315 a tonne, and Darling Downs, at Aus$300, were up some Aus$15 in a week.

National Australia Bank said on Monday that if Australia’s sorghum yields “are below average, as seems likely, prices could remain high”, adding that the outlook for sorghum has faded through the season, as good planting conditions gave way to a very dry January.

“While rain has been higher this month, it remains likely that yields will still suffer.”

‘Exceeding expectations’

By contrast, Abares raised its estimates for the, completed, harvests of major winter crops, including barley, canola and wheat, for which production figures were upgraded for all major growing states bar New South Wales.

“Favourable seasonal conditions in spring and early summer have resulted in the 2017-18 winter crop harvest exceeding expectations in some key growing regions of Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia,” the bureau said.

“As harvest progressed… it became clear that wheat crops in many regions had yielded much higher than previously expected,” Abares said with reference to South Australia.

The estimate for Australia’s wheat harvest was raised by 964,000 tonnes to 21.24m tonnes, although that still represents a sharp decrease from last season’s harvest (which was itself downgraded by 640,000 tonne to 34,369 tonnes, following a lower figure from Australia’s official statistics bureau).

The barley crop was upgraded by 853,000 tonnes to 3.71m tonnes, while the 2017-18 canola harvest was pegged at 1.98m tonnes, 441,000 tonnes above the December estimate.


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