Australian Crop Report: December edition
Winter crops in Queensland were generally in poor condition at the start of spring. Seasonal conditions in Queensland during September were generally unfavourable but did not damage winter crop prospects significantly because of the advanced stage of crop development. Good rainfall fell in October, with between 50–200mm falling in most cropping regions. However, this rainfall was generally too late to benefit winter crops.
Harvesting of winter crops in Queensland is now largely complete. Total winter crop production in 2018–19 is expected to have fallen by 45% to around 800,000 tonnes. Forecast production is similar to production in 2002–03, which was also a drought year.
The decline in production in 2018–19 reflects falls in yields and planted area. Area planted to winter crops for grain and pulse production declined significantly because of low soil moisture levels during the planting window and some crops initially planted for grain production were cut for hay.
Wheat production is estimated to have fallen by 37% to 430,000 tonnes. The area planted to wheat is estimated to have fallen by 34% to 405,000 hectares and the average yield is estimated to have fallen by 5% to 1.06 tonnes per hectare.
Chickpea production is estimated to have fallen by 62% in 2018–19 to 245,000 tonnes. This mostly reflects a fall in planted area in response to a decline in expected returns from growing chickpeas. Chickpeas in central Queensland and the northern Darling Downs generally fared better than elsewhere, with crops being able to access deeper stored soil moisture. However, the state average yield is estimated to have been only 1.1 tonnes per hectare, 19% below the 10 year average to 2017–18.
Table 7 Winter crop forecasts, Queensland, 2018–19
Note: Yields are based on area planted.
Area planted to summer crops in Queensland is forecast to fall by 14% in 2018–19 to around 612,000 hectares. This reflects a large forecast fall in area planted to irrigated cotton because of low dam levels. Summer crop production is forecast to fall by 15% to 1.5 million tonnes.
Good rainfall events in October and November raised soil moisture levels in most summer cropping regions in Queensland, but from very low levels. Follow up rainfall over summer will be critical to realising planting intentions and forecast yields. In its latest three-month rainfall outlook (December to February 2018), issued on 29 November 2018, the Bureau of Meteorology forecast the chance of summer rainfall exceeding the median at between 30% and 45% in Queensland's cropping region. Given this, ABARES has assumed rainfall will be below average.
Area planted to grain sorghum is forecast to rise by 3% in 2018–19 to 390,000 hectares, slightly below the ten-year average to 2017–18. Prices for feed are currently very high and growers have a strong incentive to plant significant area. As a result, it is possible that the planted area could far exceed this forecast if there is sufficient rainfall in early summer to further lift soil moisture levels.
Grain sorghum production is forecast to fall by 3% in 2018–19 to around 980,000 tonnes. Prospects for grain sorghum yields vary widely across cropping regions. Based on current soil moisture levels and Bureau of Meteorology rainfall scenarios, the chance of exceeding the five-year average yield is around 50% or better in most of the northern cropping region in Central Queensland. However, it is only around 25% in the Darling Downs (see Map 5). The state average yield is forecast to be below average because the Darling Downs typically accounts for the majority of grain sorghum area in Queensland.
In 2018–19 area planted to cotton is forecast to fall by 44% to 106,000 hectares, comprised of 80,000 hectares of irrigated area and 26,000 hectares of dryland area. Production is forecast to fall by 39% to 210,000 tonnes of cotton lint and 297,000 tonnes of cottonseed.
Table 8 Summer crop forecast, Queensland, 2018–19
Note: Yields are based on area planted, except cotton which is based on area harvested.