Winter crop harvest reveals a near record 51.5 million tonnes haul

The 2020-21 winter crop harvest expectations are being met as deliveries to depots are expected to peak around 51.5 million tonnes.

This places the harvest in a close second position for production volume when compared to the all-time record 56.7 million tonnes in season 2016–17.

And following three awful winter seasons in a row, it is New South Wales and Queensland growers that are welcomed back into their bank branch with open arms.

It wasn’t too long ago that bank managers were conveniently in meetings and unavailable to desperate NSW and Queensland farmers that had battled drought conditions for up to seven years in some regions.

And on top of that had three winter seasons in a row of very low yields or failed crops. The situation was quite grim and some only stayed on the land with the help of publicly funded handouts, to feed themselves and their livestock.

Well, those tough times are over as NSW growers are expected to harvest a record-breaking winter crop, with forecast production of more than 17.6 million tonnes.

This even eclipses the tally from the overall all-time record season of 2016–17 when NSW produced 15.5 million tonnes.

This production result of is 77% above the 10-year average and a massive 427% increase over the heart-breaking 3.4 million tonnes harvested last year.

Meanwhile the jump is not as dramatic for Queensland growers with a 1.67 million tonnes haul expected, it’s a welcome change to the 0.67 tonnes they took off the dry scorched paddocks last year.

And while the result for Queensland growers is running in the right direction, this winter crop result is a long way off their all-time record 2016–17 season when they hauled 3.1 million tonnes to the  depots. It will be another year before they can buy a new Ute.

Driving near all-time high production prospects for Australia overall is the major winter crops, with wheat production up by 106% from last year to 31.2 million tonnes, the second highest on record.

Add to this a strong Barley production results that shows a 33% jump to 12 million tonnes, the second highest on record.

While canola production for favoured by many growers and returned for them a glow with gold to rise by 59% for a 3.7 million tonnes haul, the fifth highest on record for that crop.

Meanwhile Chickpeas production finally paid back its tormented growers with an increase of 16% to 737,000 tonnes and oats production paid back its faithful few with an 89% production increase over last year to 1.6 million tonnes.

New south Wales

If NSW was a puppy, you would want two of them from the litter this winter season.

Growers in NSW have taken the crown as the top production state for winter grain in season 2020-21.

This is the first time since winter season 2010-11 that NSW growers have taken off more grain than WA. With NSW’s 17.6 million tonnes well above the stop-start WA result of 14.3 million tonnes.

It was the turnaround in conditions from the past three winter seasons that NSW growers relied upon to plant down 6 million/ha of seed, above average by 14%.

Rainfall appeared to be reliable with at least average falls in marginal areas, and very much above average from August to October in all major winter cropping regions.

Even with the crops planted and visits to church certainly contemplated, but only waylaid as the COVID-19 pandemic scared off worshippers, the rainfall was consistent and timely throughout critical stages of the crop development.

The area planted to winter crops in central and northern New South Wales was well above average reflecting the excellent start to the winter cropping season and average to above average in southern New South Wales.

With rise over last year to a record 17.6 million tonnes from the winter harvest in 2020-21, it reflects 77% above the 10-year average, and in addition higher yields are expected to figure prominently in this result.

Wheat production figured highly in the NSW tally sitting at a record high 12.2 million tonnes.

The average wheat yield is also forecast at a record level of 3.2 tonnes/ha, 60% above the 10-year average.

The area planted to wheat in NSW for the 2020-21 winter crop was estimated at 3.8 million/ha showing the faith that growers had mustered from the previous 2019–20 planting that stood at only half that figure.

Barley so crudely rejected by Chinese importers was still a favoured crop by growers who planted down 950,000 hectares.

This resulted in a record high harvest of  3 million tonnes, 84% above the 10-year average to. Part of this good result was in the average yield of be 3.2 tonnes/ha, 56% above the 10-year average.

Canola growers were also back in harness and anticipated paddocks of gold when they planted down 550,000 hectares, more than double the planting from the previous winter season in 2019-20.

Their reward is a harvest of around 1.1 million tonnes, bolstered by the average yield sitting at a record high of 1.95 tonnes/ha. This result is 47% above the 10-year average.

Western Australia

While Western Australian growers lost the top production state crown to NSW in this 2020-21 season, a position they had held for the past nine winter seasons.

Production is still expected to come in at a healthy 14.3 million tonnes, around the 10-year average, an increase of 24% on last year when the harvest dipped to just 11.6 million tonnes.

WA growers had to contend with a stop start season that could have gone either way, as the La Niña weather pattern began to settle in.

Even so, the increase in production is mostly because of increased yields over the previous 2019-20 winter season.

Growers had to work hard to achieve this result, and actually expected more as a result of the area planted being up by 5% to a higher than average level of 8.3 million/ha.

Wheat production in WA played an important role in the overall tally, it rose by 41% to around 8.2 million tonnes. This result also reflected a forecast 33% increase in the average yield over last year.

However, when taken across the 10-year average, the yield is in fact 3% down. The area planted to wheat was bullish from growers who pushed their limit over last year by 6% to 4.75 million hectares.

Barley was not as popular with growers in WA and as a result production is forecast to be down by 6% to 3.6 million tonnes, largely reflecting a drop in the area planted  to 1.6 million/ha, a 9% reduction on last year.

And while the average yield is 2% higher than last year, most of the production is expected to be graded as feed barley.

Canola won over many WA growers and they were rewarded with a production increase of around 22%, with 1.4 million tonnes taken off the crop.

This results comes from a 21% increase in planted area to 1.1 million/ha and an expected increase in the average yield to 1.22 tonnes/ha. This result is 3% above the 10-year average.

Most of the Canola crop is expected to achieve average yields with oil percentages in the mid to high 40s, indicating high quality. A result of the favourable conditions in the southern cropping regions.

Victoria

Growers in Victoria continued their four good seasons out of five run with a 9.3 million tonnes bounty to be shared across the state.

Even with winter rainfall below average in some growing areas it did not deter growers from planting down almost 3.5 million/ha. A 9% increase in the area planted over the previous year.

Growers put their feet up, there was no COVID-19 to be seen in their area as Melbourne had been locked down. Something many felt should have been done years ago.

Growers were rewarded with sufficient and timely rainfall in September and above average October rainfall clinched the deal for a second best on record crop production, only beaten by the all-time record 9.5 million tonnes in season 2016–17.

It is expected that all growing regions in Victoria will achieve above average yields, with the only exceptions being in some parts of the northern Mallee, which is expected to achieve average yields.

Above average rainfall in November and early December will boost yields in late finishing districts but will serve to slow harvest in several other growing regions.

Winter crop production in Victoria is forecast to increase by 24% in 2020–21 to 9.3 million tonnes, the highest since 2016–17 and 40% above the 10-year average.

The forecast increase in production reflects an estimated 9% increase in the area planted to around 3.5 million/ha and also reflects higher yields.

Several large-scale Victorian hay and fodder producers have indicated their haul will go into the grain pool for the first time in several years as opposed to their usual sale for stock feed.

This is due to the favourable seasonal conditions right across the country with feed in abundance and as a result lower than usual hay prices, compared to the past few seasons.

Wheat production is expected to increase to a level high enough to reach a record of 4.7 million tonnes.

This reflects the second highest average yield on record, and an estimated planted area that is 5% above the 10-year average.

Growers in Victoria saw a new Ute at the end of the rainbow and as a result the area planted to wheat in Victoria increased by 10% to 1.6 million/ha.

Barley production was embraced by growers in Victoria as Vietnam indicated its beer drinking prowess was increasing and may even take over the order that China had decided to reject through increased tariffs.

As a result, Barley production increased by 10% in 2020–21 to around 2.7 million tonnes. Also helping was the average yield increasing by 3.3% to around 3.15 tonnes/ha.

The area planted to Barley in Victoria is estimated to have increased by 6% to 870,000 hectares.

Canola proved to be an old favourite for many Victorian growers and as a result, plantings increased by 17% to 450,000 hectares, an increase of 17% over the previous year.

Canola production is forecast to increase by 32% to 855,000 tonnes. and the average canola yield is expected to increase by 13% to around 1.9 tonnes/ha, the highest level since the all-time record 2016–17 season.

South Australia

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Growers in South Australia have landed on their feet, after a patchy run in some regions, to see their Winter crop production increase by 39% to 8.4 million tonnes in 2020-21.

This result is 15% above the 10-year average, and sits at the fourth highest crop result in the state, with season 2016–17 still holding the record with 10.6 million tonnes, leaving growers with room to expand.

It was welcome rain in September and October in most major cropping regions that boosted yield prospects.

Growers in southern cropping regions have yield prospects that are well above average.

These include the lower Eyre Peninsula, the lower Yorke Peninsula, the mid-north, the lower Murray and the south east.

In northern cropping regions, the September and October rainfall boosted yield prospects in the upper North and the Mallee, but generally arrived too late to benefit large parts of the upper Eyre Peninsula.

Harvesting was slowed in some regions by rain and strong winds in mid-November but the quality of early receivals of cereals and pulses to depots was reported to be good.

Even a COVID-19 pandemic cluster shutdown between 19 to 21 November did not affect harvesting and grain supply chains.

Wheat was where the heart lay for many SA growers who planted over 2 million/ha to prove their point and increase their bank balances.

They were rewarded for their faith in the golden oval with production increased by 53% to 4.9 million tonnes.

This result also takes into account an expected 44% increase in the statewide average yield that is around 12% above the 10-year average.

Eyre Peninsula growers leaned the most toward wheat as their saviour, then followed by the mid-North and the Murraylands. As a result of their selection, yield prospects in these regions are significantly higher than yields achieved last year.

Barley did not get forgotten as production is forecast to increase by 24% to 2.3 million tonnes. This also reflects an expected 25% increase in the statewide average yield, and that also places the average yield at 19% above the 10-year average.

Canola also received plenty of support from SA growers with production forecast to increase by 25%, to 375,000 tonnes. This result coming from a modest 2% increase in the planted area.

This reflects an expected 22% increase in the statewide average yield. While taken across a  10-year average, yields for canola crops are 17% up in 2020-21.

Much of this improvements stems from the favourable spring rainfall in the lower Eyre Peninsula, the mid-North and the south-east.

Queensland

Growers in Queensland plucked up some enormous courage to increase plantings by an estimated 77% for the 2020-21 winter crop.

This follows two, particularly disastrous winter seasons where production didn’t even reach 50% of an average year. And there is worst to add, it also includes a failed Summer crop in 2019-20.

And try as they may, weather events were not going their way at any part of the 2020-21 winter season.

The starting point was one of great faith in their chosen profession of punting on the weather, but the winter crop in Queensland was stymied by below average rainfall over the growing season and above average spring temperatures.

Even with central Queensland receiving average rainfall in September it was insufficient and simply didn’t give the boost the crops badly needed.

In addition, overall Spring rainfall in southern Queensland was variable at best with crops falling into deterioration from insufficient moisture in September.

The only godsend where timely rainfall benefiting yields was in the south east and western Downs.

Overall winter crop production in Queensland is at least up on the drought affected result in 2019–20, it will hobble in at around 1.7 million tonnes in 2020–21, 3% below the 10-year average.

Wheat production is estimated at 1.1 million tonnes in 2020–21, significantly higher than drought affected production of the last winter season but still 4% below the 10-year average.

The statewide average yield is estimated at around 1.5 tonnes/ha, and that is a disappointing 10% below the 10-year average.

Barley growers had a result of sorts, with production estimated to have risen significantly to 240,000 tonnes in 2020–21, 13% above the 10-year average.

But this result was also hard fought as every grain was stained with sweat as it took a lot of cash and a 200% increase in the planted area to 135,000 hectares, 31% above the 10-year average.

Chickpea could have pulled Queensland growers out of the doldrums and with the harvest estimated to have risen by 62% to 275,000 tonnes initial results looked good.

But the pain was still evident when you realise this result is in fact 21% below the 10-year average.

It took a measured effort from growers who increased their plantings by 35% to 230,000 hectares, just a little below the 10-year average by 11% in reality.

But once again, without more reliable rainfall, the average yield is estimated to have increased but still remained 5% below the 10-year average.

Once you look at these figures its astounding that the Queensland border stayed closed for so long. No tourism and not enough farm produce; what are people living on.

Still to come for Queensland growers is the 2020-21 summer crop season, where some kindness from the La Niña weather pattern has many kneeling as they seek a new found faith.

Should the weather fail, the only alternative will be a cashed up Chinese buyer, and even they are looking thin on ground.

  • The latest three-month climate outlook (December to February), issued by the Bureau of Meteorology on 19 November 2020, indicates summer rainfall is likely to be above average in most summer cropping regions.
  • Area planted to summer crops in 2020–21 is forecast to rise by 211 per cent from the drought affected levels of 2019–20 to around 1.1 million hectares, which is 6% below the 10-year average to 2019–20 due to area planted to cotton forecast to be below its long term average.
  • Area planted to grain sorghum and cotton is forecast to rise significantly.
  • Summer crop production is forecast to rise by 322% to 3.7 million tonnes, reflecting the expected increase in planted area and an assumed return to average yields from the historically low yields in 2019–20.

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