Wet winter and spring brings record grain crop for Australian farmers

14.02.2017

Australian grain production has hit an all-time high, thanks to favourable rainfall in winter and spring last year.

The winter crop harvest reached "unprecedented levels, with all mainland states set to achieve record highs", a new report said.

The report estimated that winter crop production jumped 49 per cent in 2016-17, to 58.9 million tonnes.

All mainland states produced big volumes and broke records, although there were some crop losses or damage due to flooding in some parts of New South Wales.

The huge harvest was a welcome change for Victorian grain growers, who had endured two tough years, with some recording consecutive losses. The huge volumes helped ensure farmers made money, despite the depressed world grain prices.

According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences 2016-17 report, "total winter crop production in Victoria is estimated to have more than doubled ... to 10.2 million tonnes". This smashes the previous record total, of 7.6 million tonnes, set in 2010-11.

The thousands of Australian grain farmers who contributed to the record crop include those like Tim Hill, who farms with his family at Colbinabbin, in northern Victoria.

"2015 was probably one of our driest years on record, and then 2016 turned out to be one of the wettest growing seasons on record," he said. "So we had a complete turn-around in the two years. We ended up having a really good year.

"On average across our farm, we probably were over our averages by two tonnes a hectare in our wheat. And we were probably up to a tonne above our average in canola."

While high rainfall was a key driver, the cool spring "helped crops finish", he said.

On the national stage Australian farmers grew a massive 35.1 million tonnes of wheat, 45.4 per cent more than the previous season; and 13.4 million tonnes of barley, a rise of 56.1 per cent on 2015-16.

Peter Collins, senior economist at ABARES, said "every mainland state" had produced a record volume of winter crops.

Mr Collins said it was "unusual" for all mainland Australian grain growing states to have good seasons at the same time.

"It's just been pretty good in all the major crop-producing areas over the whole season," he said.

"Quite often we see, say Western Australia have a good year and (there's) not such a good year on the east coast. And vice versa, sometimes there's a good year in the eastern states which includes South Australia, and not such a good year in the west. So to have it all this good, at one time, is unusual."

Brett Hosking, president of the Victorian Farmers Federation's grain group, said: "It's been an exceptional year of production and it's testament to what our growers can do given the right conditions. They've certainly got the skills and got the ability to produce fantastic yields."

But Mr Hosking said that grain prices were far below what they were one year ago and "probably at an all-time low".

"That's the challenge growers are now facing, whilst they're celebrating fantastic production, it's turning what should be a record year income-wise into probably just an average year income-wise, which is a little bit disappointing."


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