June 27, 2008

 

Western Australia wheat production may be worse than 2007 

 
 

Western Australia's crop outlook slipped following dry weather in May and June over the region's vast wheatbelt, Michael Musgrave, manager operations at logistics concern Cooperative Bulk Handling Ltd., said Friday (June 27, 2008).

 

The dry conditions raised the specter of this year's winter crops including wheat failing to reach last year's drought-reduced output, he said.

 

Much will depend for now on whether a westerly weather system moving across wheatlands Thursday and Friday brings the heavy widespread rains that winter crops need to germinate and emerge, he said.

 

CBH's estimate for total winter crop production in the west now is a range of 6 million to 9 million tonnes, he said. Early June, the state's Department of Agriculture and Food estimated an output of between 10 million to 12 million tonnes.

 

"If we can achieve last year we would feel relieved from here," Musgrave told Dow Jones Newswires by telephone from Perth. "Even the 8.4 we got last year would probably be stretching things at this stage."

 

Western Australia produced 6.1 million tonnes of wheat last year, well below the 11.1 million tonnes of record output in 2003, which represented about 10 percent of global traded supply, making Western Australia an important swing producer in the world trade.

 

Of most concern to CBH are the central west area, which Musgrave dubbed "the bread basket of the wheat belt" and which is now struggling, and the southeast Esperance zone, which produced about one-third of last year's wheat.

 

"Already they're behind so that's why we're feeling fairly pessimistic," he said.

 

"We've been getting really depressing reports about crops not emerging," in the wheatbelt's eastern half, making the current weather system critical, he said.

 

Many growing districts in the central west and central wheatbelt have received 10 millimetres to 15 millimetres of rain in the 7 days ended early Friday, according to the government's Bureau of Meteorology.

 

Typically, wheat lands in the lower southwest are in a "pretty good shape" while CBH expects production of about 1 million tonnes in the northern Geraldton zone, double from last year's drought-hit crops, he said.

 

The crop year thus far has been challenging, with the record April rains, particularly in the north creating considerable optimism of a rebound in output. High grain prices spurred the biggest plantings since 2004, he said.

 

But that optimism has soured, he said.

 

CBH owns and operates the state's grain logistics system with 200 upcountry sites that feed into 4 coastal export terminals.
   

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