Prospects for a 2018 Queensland winter crop are rapidly fading as the states cropping areas continue to be starved of rain.
Farmers have remained hopeful that late rain would arrive in time to seed wheat, barley and chickpeas but acknowledge that the time for this rain is quickly running out.
Even if planting rains were to fall in June, the absence of rootzone moisture is also a big concern for farmers wanting to plant winter crops. The Bureau of Meteorology Australian Landscape Water Balance maps highlight how critically dry norther soils have become following many months of substantially below average rainfall.
Root zone soil moisture levels across southern Queensland, the Maranoa and northern NSW is rated much below average according to the Bureau’s Water Balance modelling maps. Soil moisture levels through the southern Darling Downs extending into northern NSW is rated as being in the lowest 1 per cent, according to the Australian Landscape Water Balance maps.
Although the rootzone and upper soil moisture levels in the northern cropping zones are poor, the deeper soil moisture reserves are more favourable, according the Water Balance data. The modelling shows that large areas of southern Queensland and northern NSW are sitting above average to very much above average deep soil moisture.
However, this means little to grain farmers without some significant rainfall to join the parched topsoil with the lower level soil moisture bands.
Northern farmers have already started to turn their thoughts to the summer crops which will be seeded in the spring. Acutely tight northern grain supplies mean new season’s sorghum will demand high price. Similarly, high cotton prices will make it an attractive alternative for farmers with irrigation.
Feed grain users are already starting to contemplate the prospects of another poor northern winter crop. A poor 2018 northern winter crop would cast back memories to 2006 and 2007 seasons when the north was devastated by two consecutive poor harvests.
Prospects of consecutive poor northern winter crops is a thought that intensive grain users through the Darling Downs and the broader southern Queensland would prefer they didn’t have to contemplate. The northern feed grain landscape has changed significantly in the past decade. Feed grain usage through southern Queensland is estimated to have doubled in the past 10 years as end users rapidly expand capacity to meet the growing domestic and international markets.
Feedlot capacity has continued to expand on a mix of domestic and export demand. Poultry and pig operators through southern Queensland have also grown significantly in the past decade.
Northern grain markets have been drawing grain from southern NSW for close to 12 months. More recently the grain supplies are being pulled from Victoria and SA with traders also talking of interstate coastal shipments of grain, possibly from WA.
It’s becoming more likely that these long-distance interstate grain flows will remain a feature of the southern Queensland market for the rest of 2018 and possibly well into 2019.