- National winter crop production to fall from record highs in 2023–24 to 45.2 million tonnes, slightly below the 10-year average.
- Dry conditions in northern cropping regions likely to result in below average yields.
- Winter crop prospects are more favourable in southern cropping regions owing to better-than-expected winter rainfall.
- Planting of summer crops in 2023–24 to fall under the expectation of below average rainfall for spring and summer.
Seasonal conditions across Australian winter cropping regions have been mixed throughout the 2023–24 winter cropping season. Conditions have been mostly favourable across southern cropping regions where better-than-expected early winter rainfall boosted soil moisture levels and benefitted crop establishment and growth. Winter crop prospects are favourable in southern New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and southern cropping regions of Western Australia. In contrast, planting and establishment conditions were largely unfavourably dry in Queensland, northern New South Wales and northern and eastern cropping regions of Western Australia. This has led to some winter crops experiencing moisture stress, with yields forecast to be below average.
According to the latest three-month rainfall outlook (September to November), issued by the Bureau of Meteorology on 24 August 2023, there is a high chance that spring rainfall will be below average across Australian cropping regions. Most areas with average or better levels of soil moisture are likely to receive enough rainfall to sustain crop production. However, in cropping regions with low soil moisture, such as southern Queensland, northern New South Wales and the northern and eastern cropping zone of Western Australia, the increased chance of dry spring conditions is expected to negatively affect yield potential. These regions will require sufficient and timely rain to maintain current levels of winter crop production, particularly in the coming weeks with higher temperatures expected and increased water demand for crops.
While El Niño is expected to develop and reduce production prospects, the extent to which it influences Australian rainfall and temperatures presents a key downside risk to the outlook. Analysis of past El Niño events suggests that climate impacts can be variable. If conditions are even drier and hotter than expected, this is likely to see crop prospects deteriorate further in regions where winter crops have little soil moisture.
Following three consecutive record production years, total Australian winter crop production is forecast to fall by 34% to 45.2 million tonnes in 2023–24. This represents a small upwards revision from the June forecast but remains below the 10-year average to 2022–23 of 46.4 million tonnes. Australian winter crop yields are also forecast to be below average owing to persistent dry conditions in key northern cropping regions. The fall in expected yields in northern cropping regions is likely to be partially offset by better yield potential in southern cropping regions.
- Wheat production is forecast to fall by 36% to 25.4 million tonnes, 4% below the 10-year average. This is a downwards revision from the June forecast.
- Barley production is forecast to fall by 26% to 10.5 million tonnes, 6% below the 10-year average. This is an upwards revision from the June forecast.
- Canola production is forecast to fall by 38% to 5.2 million tonnes but remain well above the 10-year average on account of area planted estimated to be the second highest on record. This is an upwards revision from the June forecast.
Area planted to winter crops in 2023–24 is forecast to fall year-on-year but remain historically high at 23 million hectares, 4% above the 10-year average to 2022–23. This fall is mostly driven by a 6% decrease in area planted in New South Wales and Western Australia.
Figure 1 Australian winter crop production, 2023–24
Area planted to summer crops in 2023–24 is forecast to fall by 15% to 1.3 million hectares. The fall in summer crop plantings reflects the expectation of below average rainfall and declining levels of stored soil moisture in key summer cropping regions in Queensland and New South Wales. If the below average rainfall outlook for spring is realised, it will likely see total Australian summer crop production fall by 19% to 4.1 million tonnes in 2023–24.
Sorghum production is forecast to fall by 39% to 1.5 million tonnes in 2023–24. The increased chance of dry spring and summer conditions and low soil moisture levels are expected to negatively affect the production potential of sorghum crops. Area planted to sorghum is forecast to fall by 22% year-on-year to 527 thousand hectares, but remain 1% above the 10-year average to 2022–23.
Production of cotton lint in 2023–24 is forecast to fall by 8% to 1.2 million tonnes but remain 49% above the 10-year average. Area planted to cotton is expected to fall by 16%, driven by a reduction in dryland cotton plantings under the expectation of dry conditions. Cotton production is likely to remain above average as planting of irrigated cotton will be supported by high levels of water storages in the Murray-Darling Basin following three consecutive years of above-average rainfall. High water storage levels, carryover water and irrigation allocations are expected to support irrigated cotton yields despite the expected onset of hot and dry climate conditions; this is expected to offset reductions in dryland cotton yields.
Production of rice is estimated to recover in 2023–24, rising by 26% to 656 thousand tonnes. This is driven by a forecast increase in area on the back of expected improvements in planting conditions from 2022–23 (which was impacted by wet conditions).