The winter crop for season 2021-2022 looks set to head straight into a record planting even though conditions stalled early sowing in some growing regions
Early estimates from several collaborate sources suggest the area planted to winter crops is set to reach a record high with growers chasing both increased local and world prices in a season where growing conditions are favourable for the majority.
For the major winter crops in season 2021-22 the area planted to wheat is expected to increase by 1% to around 13.1 million hectares.
But it’s not the same predicament for the ground planted to barley with expectations of a 4% reduction to around 4.2 million hectares. As malting barley markets reveal a drop in orders.
Offering the greatest turn-around from last year is the rush to plant canola across an increased area of 25% to almost 3 million hectares, the third highest on record. Boosted by favourable world prices that many growers see as guaranteed windfall profits.
Most prominent in their enthusiasm for canola following excellent planting conditions were growers in Western Australia and New South Wales.
Among other crops popular with growers were chickpeawith a 20% planting jump to 607,000 hectares, as favourable planting conditions in Queensland and New South Wales opened up.
One of the few crop plantings on a downward path was oats as it revealed grower rejection to fall by 7% because of lower domestic feed demand and concerns about trade tensions that are expected to reduce hay exports.
Early estimates for the area sown to winter crops showed growers full of enthusiasm sitting on a record high of 23.2 million hectares, up 2% on last year and edging out the previous record from season 2016-17 when 23.12 million hectares was planted.
Leading the early charge were growers from most cropping regions in New South Wales, Western Australia and much of Queensland due to the very favourable conditions at the beginning of the winter crop season and the solid outlook for winter rainfall.
While in contrast, growers in most regions of South Australia and Victoria were generally facing unfavourable early planting conditions. It would take some very favourable winter rainfall before plantings could get to within record levels in these two states.
Another mentally deterring factor was also brewing in Eastern States, a mouse plague.
Favourite straw hats were disappearing overnight as a plague proportion mice populations sent growers into a spin to undertake more baiting than usual this season.
Double strength zinc phosphide appeared the main hope while others saw no constraint in wanting to apply bromadiolone even though it was outlawed in most countries around the world for use in agriculture. Such was the rattling of nerves the plague manifest.
And while this will increase costs of production in the most badly affected regions it is understood that most on-farm management practices has so far minimised damage to winter crop plantings and early growth in most affected regions.
However, a few operations are likely to suffer production losses and a quick look at their crop protection policy will reveal if any compensation is due from mouse damage.
Early indicators are that mouse numbers have peaked in most regions as cold and wet winter conditions slow breeding rates. However, some risk remains if warmer weather in spring results in a resurgence of mice.
Growers in WA look set to take back the crown of top winter crop producer that NSW growers rested from them last year.
Seasonal conditions were very favourable at the start of the 2021–22 winter cropping season in WA and these conditions created an ideal start for the planting window.
Soil moisture levels were average to extremely high at the end of autumn. However, it will still take timely and sufficient winter rainfall for crop prospects to be strong at the beginning of spring.
Weather is not firmly on the side of WA growers at the moment as the latest three-month rainfall outlook, June to August 2021, for WA cropping regions are most likely to have below average winter rainfall. There is around a 60% risk of not exceeding median rainfall.
Most growers are banking on the excellent start to the cropping season to make up for lower winter rainfall totals than expected to sustain crops through to spring.
The area planted to winter crops in Western Australia has increased by 5% to a record high 8.7 million hectares in 2021-22.
In addition to favourable planting conditions, the low livestock population gave up more available ground for cropping.
Apart from the increased planting in WA the winter crop yields are also expected to be almost 9% above the 10-year average to 2020-21. This reflects the very favourable start to the season and excellent levels of soil moisture at the time of planting.
This facilitated planting taking place at the optimum time has reduced the risk of crop damage from hot conditions occurring during grain development.
Although winter rainfall is expected to be below average, it would have to be very much below average and untimely not to achieve forecast yields.
Spring rainfall is assumed to be around average. Winter crop production is forecast to be 17.5 million tonnes in WA, and that takes production to 15% above the 10-year average to 2020-21.
The area planted to wheat in WA has increased by 3% in 2021-22 to 4.9 million hectares, 5% above the 10-year average. Production from this planting is forecast to be 10 million tonnes, also reflecting a forecast increase in yields.
The area planted to barley in WA has in fact decreased by 4% in 2021-22 to 1.5 million hectares over last year, to be just 2% above the 10-year average.
Higher relative profit margins for canola provided an incentive to shift out of barley in many cropping regions. Production of barley in WA is forecast to be 4.1 million tonnes.
The area planted to canola in WA increased by 35% in 2021-22 to an all-time record high of 1.6 million hectares, reflecting high expected margins and a favourable start to the cropping season.
Concerns around seed availability, especially for hybrid varieties, did constrain canola planting for some growers. Yields are forecast to be well above the 10-year average, resulting in production of 2.1 million tonnes.
The area planted to lupin took a dip with a fall of 14% in 2021-22 to 300,000 hectares, reflecting lower expected returns compared to other crops.
While final production results for lupin is also expected to suffer with a forecast total down to 450,000 tonnes, 18% below the 10-year average, mainly due to the lower planting.
Cropping ground planted by WA growers for wheat, barley, canola and lupins added up to a surge in confidence of 8.28 million hectares.
New South Wales
Coming off the back of an all-time record winter crop production last year, weather conditions at the start of the 2021-22 winter cropping season in New South Wales were excellent.
February rainfall was above to very much above average in most winter cropping regions, followed by March rainfall that was more than double the average for most of NSW.
With the exception of growing regions in the south west, it was the second highest rainfall on record, resulting in flooding in many parts of eastern New South Wales.
Rainfall was in the highest 10% of historical records for most of the eastern half of the state and much of the north. April and May rainfall was below to very much below average, particularly in southern New South Wales, resulting in the loss of upper layer soil moisture.
The majority of winter crops in New South Wales was planted into soils with high levels of moisture, particularly in central and northern cropping regions. If average winter rainfall is received, crop prospects will be strong at the beginning of spring.
But growers in NSW didn’t get it all their own way. There was significant agricultural impact from the mouse plague on plantings as well as increased baiting costs while trying to prevent damage to crop development.
There has also been significant costs incurred to prevent damage to grain and hay stored on farms in NSW from the record winter crop harvest of 2020-21.
This comes as significant increase in on-farm storages and some congestion in the export supply chain means that stored grain may have been exposed to possible contamination, depending on the storage method.
According to the latest three-month rainfall outlook, June to August 2021, winter rainfall is most likely to be above average in cropping regions in New South Wales.
Pushing through the distracting side acts, growers in NSW managed to plant winter crops of just over 6 million hectares, similar to the area planted in the record 2020-21 season.
A good season break, particularly in northern and north western cropping regions in NSW is expected to see some ground being shifted out of cereals and into canola and chickpea.
Winter crop yields are forecast however to fall from the record highs in 2020–21 but still be above average in 2021-22, reflecting the excellent levels of soil moisture at the time of planting and the winter rainfall outlook.
To give it a number, winter crop production is forecast to fall by 30% from the record high in 2020-21 to around 13.1 million tonnes because of the expected fall in yields.
The area planted to wheat in NSW fell by 3% in 2021-22 to around 3.7 million hectares, but this is still 19% above the 10-year average.
Wheat production is forecast to fall to 8.9 million tonnes in 2021-22, mainly because of an expected fall in yields from the very high result achieved last year. Forecast production is 32% above the 10-year average.
The area planted to barley in NSW also fell, this time by 5% to 900,000 hectares.
Production is also forecast to fall by 35% to 2.1 million tonnes. Despite yields being forecast to be above average at the early stage of the season, they are still below the record high yields achieved in 2020-21.
The area planted to canola in NSW is where the smart money landed, it has increased by 27% to around 700,000 hectares in 2021-22, reflecting the high availability of soil moisture and promise of very high canola prices.
The average yield for canola in NSW is forecast to be above the 10-year average, resulting in production of just over 1 million tonnes.
The cropping ground NSW growers were prepared to plant for wheat, barley and canola added up to a conservative 5.3 million hectares.
Growers in South Australia looked to gods every morning in the early part of the 2021-22 season, but planting conditions for winter crops were generally unfavourable for a long stretch of time.
Rainfall from the beginning of February to the end of April was average to below average in most cropping regions and soil moisture levels were well below average in late April. Even so, a significant area of crops was sown dry.
Rainfall in May in southern cropping regions helped germinate dry sown crops and facilitated further planting. However most northern cropping regions, including upper Eyre Peninsula and the Murray Mallee did not receive sufficient rainfall in May to establish crops.
Sufficient and timely winter rainfall will be required to realise planting intentions and germinate and develop many crops. According to the latest three-month rainfall outlook, June to August 2021, above average winter rainfall is likely in most cropping regions in South Australia.
The area planted to winter crops in SA remains largely unchanged from 2020-21 at around 3.7 million hectares.
However, winter crop production is forecast to fall 16% to 7.05 million tonnes. And to highlight the late season rain across SA, the average crop yields are assumed to be slightly below the 10-year average.
The area planted to wheat in SA has remained largely unchanged at around 2.1 million hectares. The incentive to plant provided by high prices is expected to offset unfavourable planting conditions.
Wheat production in SA is forecast to decrease by 15% to 4.1 million tonnes, largely due to an expected fall in yields.
The area planted to barley in SA remained largely unchanged at around 860,000 hectares. Barley remains a key component of many crop rotations and price of barley has remained relatively favourable.
Barley production in SA is forecast to fall by 21% to 1.9 million tonnes, driven by an expected fall in yields.
The area planted to canola in SA has fallen by 2% to 220,000 hectares, mainly because less area was planted to canola in northern cropping regions due to the unfavourable planting conditions.
Canola production is forecast to fall by 15% to 320,000 tonnes, mainly because yields are expected to be lower than last year because of the unfavourable seasonal conditions, especially in the early part of the season.
Growers in SA were only prepared to plant wheat, barley and canola adding up to 3.15 million hectares.
For several season now in Victoria, growers have been split into two categories, “solid” or “hit and miss”. This season was no different, planting conditions at the beginning of the 2021-22 winter cropping season were mixed.
There was average to above average autumn rainfall in the south-west and central cropping regions in Vic, but below average autumn rainfall in the northern Wimmera and Mallee.
Although dry seeding is nothing new for these regions, it was the below average levels of upper layer soil moisture that constrained planting, particularly marginal regions that have become firm “hit and miss” listers.
Winter rainfall is likely to be average to above average in most cropping regions in Victoria, according to the latest three-month rainfall outlook, June to August 2021. The outlook further states higher than average rainfall is more likely in June in most cropping regions and less favourable conditions more likely during the remainder of winter.
Favourable June rainfall will be important for further planting and crop germination, particularly in the northern Wimmera and Mallee. Good winter rainfall after June will be important for crop development because of well below average levels of lower layer soil moisture at the beginning of winter.
The area planted to winter crops in Victoria so far has fallen by 2% in 2021-22 to 3.4 million hectares.
Below average rainfall in the north-west of the state is likely to reduce planted area in marginal cropping regions. Planting is expected to continue late into the planting window in response to high prices, particularly for canola, if favourable rainfall occurs in June.
Winter crop production in Vic is expected to fall by 28% to 6.9 million tonnes, and remain close to the 10-year average. Production is expected to fall largely because of an expected return to average yields from 2020-21 levels.
The area planted to wheat in Vic, due to the slow start, fell by 6% in 2021-22 to 1.5 million hectares. However, this is close to the 10-year average.
Wheat production in Vic is forecast to fall by 30% to 3.3 million tonnes because of the forecast fall in planted area and lower yields expected in some regions.
The area planted to barley in Vic has fallen by 5% to 830,000 hectares in 2021-22. This is 8% below the 10-year average.
Barley production is forecast to fall by 28% to around 2 million tonnes because of the lower planted area and average yields expected in some regions.
The area planted to canola in Vic will almost reach 500,000 hectares in 2021-22, an 11% increase from 2020–21. This planted area for canola is the third highest on record.
Despite the forecast increase in planted area, canola production is expected to fall by 23% to 734,000 tonnes, because of a decline in average yield from the record high levels in 2020–21.
A cautious approach by growers in Vic has seen an overall reduced planting of wheat, barley and canola adding up to 2.83 million hectares.
Growers in Qld are getting back to normal following a run of devastating winter droughts, with the start to the winter cropping season generally favourable. Above average rainfall in March and early April boosted soil moisture levels in all cropping regions.
Above average rainfall in southern Qld during the first half of May further boosted crop germination and increased prospects of high yields in this region. In contrast, soil moisture levels in northern cropping regions in Qld fell to below average by the end of May because of below average rainfall in late autumn.
This means winter crops in northern cropping regions will rely on in-season rainfall more than other southern cropping regions to germinate and develop crops.
The high mouse population in southern Qld has increased baiting costs for affected growers during autumn 2021. Farm management has so far minimised impacts on current crop plantings and development, but risks remain in spring if the mouse population surges.
According to the latest three-month rainfall outlook, June to August 2021, above average winter rainfall is likely in most cropping regions in Qld.
The area planted to winter crops in Qld has increased by 15% to 1.3 million hectares in 2021-22. This increase is driven mostly by the favourable conditions in southern Qld and available land left fallow during the summer cropping season.
High wheat and pulse prices also provided an incentive to plant winter crops. Winter crop production is forecast to increase by 29% to 2.2 million tonnes due to yields forecast to be above average in southern cropping regions and average in northern cropping regions.
The area planted to wheat in Qld has increase by 16% to 870,000 hectares in 2021-22. This forecast increase reflects very favourable seasonal conditions in southern Qld and high wheat prices.
With a forecast average yield at slightly above the 10-year average. Wheat production is expected to be 1.5 million tonnes, 32% higher than last year.
The area planted to Barley in Qld in 2021-22 has declined by 11% to 120,000 hectares. This decline reflects the current large availability of feed grain following the second largest winter crop on record last season.
Production is forecast to remain unchanged at 240,000 tonnes because of expected higher average yields.
The area planted to chickpea has increased by 22% in 2021-22 in response to favourable prices and very favourable soil moisture levels in southern Qld.
Production of chickpea in Qld for season 2021-22 is forecast to be 370,000 tonnes, which is 35% above last year.
Growers in Qld approached the season with plenty of optimism and as a result increased plantings of wheat, barley and chickpea that added up to 1.27 million hectares.