Frosts have become the latest obstacle to jeopardise grain farmers from harvesting a crop in the 2018, in a season that has gone from bad to worse for most east coast grain farmers.
Drought conditions through Queensland and NSW, which have been creeping into the Victorian Mallee in the past 60 days, meant that many grain crops had already succumbed to the lack of rain. Now frosts have become the latest challenge for those farmers who have been fortunate enough to have a crop with some yield potential.
Clear skies associated with the drought increased the chances of cold nights and frosts and warmer than normal day time temperatures.
Overnight temperatures plummeted to -5 to -6 degrees in large areas of south eastern Australia at times in the past week, raising concerns of significant frost damage. Some farmers in the Victorian Mallee, where crops had already started to shoot up, are reporting stem frost damage. Damage is also being reported around Wagga Wagga and Temora in the NSW southern slopes.
The Bureau of Meteorology gave a spring weather outlook for eastern Australian grain farmers in its monthly climate outlook statement. Drier than normal weather conditions are expected to extend through large parts of Australia, the bureau said in its climate outlook statement released last week.
Spring days are likely to be warmer than normal with an elevated chance of overnight frosts, the Bureau said. Chances of an El Nino forming in the coming months are also elevated, it said.
Grain prices have recouped most of the losses seen in the past week as traders pulled back bids ahead of the forecast rain for Queensland and NSW in late August. A pullback in United States wheat futures also contributed to a $20 a tonne correction in east coast grain markets. ASX wheat futures fell back to $385/t, down from the highs of $410 of mid-August, but had recovered to $400/t on Friday.
Stock feed wheat finished the week down $4 at $445/t delivered into the Darling Downs. Traders were offering wheat off the ship at the Brisbane wharf at around $435/t down from $450 in mid-August.
Western Australian wheat and barley prices also fell on the forecast rain and the correction in overseas futures markets but have since pared back most of these losses.
Grain buyers, many of whom expect Queensland and NSW will harvest the smallest winter grain crop in upwards of 20 years, saw the dip in prices as an opportunity to secure more grain.
A firmer tone in global markets was also supportive for local grain markets. US wheat futures rallied after Canada’s government crop forecaster cuts its estimate of the country’s wheat crop to 29 million tonnes which is sharply less than the USDA’s current estimate of 32.5mt.
Australia’s ABARES will release its September crop report next week. It is expected to slash wheat and barley production estimates for Queensland and NSW after limited winter rainfall while raising estimates for WA.