It’s becoming apparent that a succession of frosts in late August has inflicted considerable damage to winter cereal and canola crops.
Overnight temperatures plummeted to minus five Celsius on occasions and this has been cold enough to inflict complete crop losses in some areas. The worst hot areas appear to the central west of NSW and parts of the Riverina.
Farmers were hoping they had escaped crop losses, or at least they would be minimal. But a little over a week after the frosts hit, it’s becoming clear the blast of cold weather has devastated some crops. Canola has been one of the worst affected crops with many of the crops were podding and very susceptible. Affected growers said canola crops dropped leaves and pods soon after the frosts making them believe the yield losses could be significant.
Barley crops in the central west also suffered from the frosts. Some farmers are reporting significant stem frosting.
Frost damage is just the latest blow for the 2017 winter cereal crop. There was no let-up to the drought conditions through Queensland and northern New South Wales in August. Farmers in the northern cropping zones recorded significantly below average rainfall for August.
Crops conditions in in areas around Moree, Cropper Creek, North Star and the Liverpool Plains deteriorated significantly in late August and early September as moisture reserves dwindle. There areas have fared reasonably well through the winter but have since fallen away.
Variable growing conditions through Australia have resulted in a ‘chalk and cheese’ season between the north and the south.
Winter crop production through Queensland and northern NSW is expected to be the smallest in at least a decade. Many crops were planted on marginal moisture and never got fully established with the limited winter rainfall.
Conversely, most of Australia’s southern cropping areas are on track for a reasonable harvest, with potentially above average yields with a soft spring. Victoria is on track for an above average season following a timely break to the season and a favourable winter.
Good late winter rain through most of South Australia and WA’s southern cropping areas has boosted crop conditions, with many farmers saying they are already assured of average to above average yields.
The combination of a substantially smaller than normal Queensland and northern NSW grain harvest with the large domestic feed grain consumption in Southern Queensland and northern NSW has already pushed northern grain prices sharply higher as buyers seek coverage.
Stock feed wheat into the feed grain demand intensive Darling Downs jumped by $80 in May and June to around $330 as tonne as it became apparent the northern wheat crop in trouble and end users would need to draw grain supplies up from the south. Similar increases were seen in the feed barley prices as feedlots and buyers chased coverage as crop expectations tumbled.
The hike in northern grain prices has result in some enormous swings in regional grain values. The Darling Downs stock feed wheat price has gone from parity with the Melbourne APW wheat price during the 2016/17 harvest window to the current $80 dollar a tonne premium.
Stronger Southern Queensland immediately changed grain flows through NSW. Wheat and barley from southern NSW is now being drawn into the northern feedlots, instead of being exported out of Port Kembla. There is even talk that northern wheat prices are high enough to ship grain from South Australia to Brisbane.
While the function of the northern market is maintaining a high enough price to draw grain supplies into the Darling Downs; southern grain production areas, including Victoria, will remain reliant on export markets to move the coming grain harvest.