Western Australia Crop-Planting Prospects Improve

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“Growers will seize the opportunity because of the very high correlation between early planting and oil content.”

Rain was forecast to fall last week and beyond over much of the grain-growing regions of Western Australia, Australia’s top grain-exporting state, improving prospects for planting winter crops such as wheat, barley and canola.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said up to 10 millimetres were expected on Wednesday.

The bureau says there is a 50 per cent chance of up to 200 millimetres of rain falling over much of the state’s crop-growing districts during the three months to June when winter crops will be sown.

Farmers say good falls are needed by mid-May to guarantee crops as, unlike last year, there have been few cyclonic storms in recent weeks to boost subsoil moisture.

“Right now the weather forecast is a bet each way but obviously we’re all hoping we’ll get a break and get on with it,” said Derek Clauson, grains president of the state’s farmer association.

Last season Western Australian grain growers produced their third-biggest crop on record at almost 13 million tonnes.

The state’s leading grain-handling and marketing group, CBH Group, said rain would encourage farmers to plant big crops of wheat and canola, though acres planted with barley might be down on last year because of weaker prices.

The farmer-owned bulk handler’s Grain Pool unit estimates farmers will favour wheat because of ongoing strong international demand for premium grade wheat that is grown in Western Australia.

Grain Pool senior trading manager Josh Roberts said it is possible that the state’s wheat crop will exceed the 8.9 million tonnes harvested in the 2009-10 July-June crop year if there’s sufficient rain to encourage planting.

“We think planted hectares will be up on last year but it is early days,” said Roberts.

Rain would boost canola

At current prices wheat offered a better return than barley, which remained in ample supply following a record 2008-09 global crop of 156 million tonnes.

Grain Pool expects Western Australia’s 2009-10 barley crop to be 2.2 million tonnes to 2.4 million tonnes, depending on the break in the season. About 2.5 million tonnes were harvested in 2008-09, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics estimated last month.

Roberts said Middle East and Japanese buyers continued to seek Western Australian feed barley because of its “plump” milling characteristics while China, the world’s No. 1 malt barley importer, was likely to secure large volumes of malt barley from Western Australia’s 2009-10 harvest.

He said the size of Western Australia’s 2009-10 canola crop was dependent on rain in coming weeks.

“If we get a really early break you will see a lot of canola planted,” said Roberts.

“Growers will seize the opportunity because of the very high correlation between early planting and oil content.”

Grain Pool is forecasting an 800,000 to 1.0 million tonnes 2009-10 canola harvest in Western Australia but Roberts said rain in the next few weeks would change the forecast.

Last harvest the Western Australian canola crop was a record 1.138 million tonnes, the result of higher-than-expected plantings, good soil moisture and less-than-expected frost damage.

Though canola prices weren’t near record levels seen a year ago, Roberts said current new-crop bids offered a return sufficient for farmers to include canola as a rotation crop.

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