La Nina announces its arrival in grand style

Despite unseasonal weather across vast tracts of the eastern states, Grain Brokers Australia is calling the national wheat crop at 38 million tonnes, on the back of a bigger planted area.
Despite unseasonal weather across vast tracts of the eastern states, Grain Brokers Australia is calling the national wheat crop at 38 million tonnes, on the back of a bigger planted area.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has finally confirmed what the constant stream of rain-bearing storm clouds have been telling the eastern Australian farmer for most of November - La Nina has arrived.

The BoM has had a La Nina "alert" in place for a couple of months and has been forecasting the ocean cooling trend in the tropical Pacific Ocean to continue toward La Nina levels.

On November 25, the BoM released its latest three-month climate outlook and officially declared the weather phenomenon.

This has coincided with the slow disintegration of the negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD).

A negative IOD is typically associated with above-average rainfall over parts of southern Australia.

It is expected to move into neutral territory in the next few weeks, in line with its typical seasonal cycle.

A positive Southern Annular Mode (SAM) is the third climatic influence in play at the moment.

The SAM refers to the (non-seasonal) north-south movement of the strong westerly winds that blow almost continuously in the mid-to-high latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere.

This belt of westerly winds is generally associated with storms and cold fronts that move from the west to the east of the continent, bringing rainfall to southern Australia.

According to the BoM, November 2021 has been among the top 10 wettest Novembers on record.

The nation's capital, Canberra, has recorded its wettest November since records began in 1939.

In the central west of New South Wales, the towns of Orange, Cowra and Condobolin have all recorded their wettest Novembers in more than 100 years.

Extremely heavy rainfall swept across the eastern states of Australia on Thursday and Friday last week, exacerbating the widespread flooding already occurring in many creek and river systems.

Multiple flood warnings have been issued, primarily across Queensland and NSW.

What's more, the climate models are indicating the La Nina thresholds are planning to hang around until late summer - leading to a wetter than average outlook for the next three months.

This will be great news for summer crop prospects in northern NSW and Queensland.

But it is a nightmare for farmers who are battling to get their winter crop harvested.

Substantial quality downgrades are now inevitable.

Seasonal conditions have been favourable for winter crop production across almost the entire country this year.

Western Australia has been the standout, with production up significantly from 2020.

WA has been an oasis for most of the year, getting regular top-up rain events in most regions across the entire growing season.

The picture in South Australia and Victoria is not as rosy as last year, with a poor soil moisture profile leading to a late start in many districts.

The Mallee regions in both states have had well below average growing season rainfall, and production of all crops has suffered accordingly.

NSW has had a repeat of season 2021, with above-average rainfall in almost every cropping region - except for the south-west corner bordering the Victorian Mallee.

But the planting period was too wet in parts of the north, which delayed planting and led to poor crop establishment in some districts.

That said, production prospects for the state were on par with a year earlier - before the unwelcome November rain events.

The 2020 harvest resulted in Australia producing a record wheat crop of 37 million tonnes.

Prospects are still high for another record this year.

But the gloss has undoubtedly been taken off the NSW crop in recent weeks.

Nevertheless, I am still calling the national wheat crop at 38 million tonnes, on the back of a bigger planted area.

But the bias has definitely turned negative following the eastern states rainfall deluge.

The big difference this year is the huge wheat crop in WA, which is more than making up for lower production in both Victoria and SA.

Wheat production in NSW is now unlikely to match last year's record tally. But it will still be the second biggest crop on record and well ahead of the third biggest crop.

The Queensland harvest is winding-down in most districts. But much of the inner Darling Downs crop is still in the paddock.

Wheat production is expected to surprise - to the upside - with good yields reported over a much bigger planted area than in 2020.

Output is forecast to be more than double that of last year.

National barley production is expected to be lower year-on-year.

Continued uncertainty around Chinese demand, buoyant global oilseed values and an excellent start to the season in NSW and WA saw a widescale switch from barley to canola when planting started in autumn.

At 13.5 million tonnes, the barley crop will be about 0.5 million tonnes lower than last year's record output.

The Australian canola crop is officially a "bin buster".

Last year's record crop of 4.28 million tonnes has been totally eclipsed, dwarfed by a crop that has flourished "in the lap of luxury" since planting.

Canola has wanted for nothing, with a long, mild and moist growing season.

Consequently, production is expected to be at least 6 million tonnes, which is 40 per cent higher than the 2020 crop.

While that may seem high to some, there are plenty of trade estimates north of that number.

But right now the international gaze is firmly on the quality of the Australia wheat crop.

The world has been banking on Australia to alleviate the global dearth of protein wheat following poor harvests in the major export nations in the Northern Hemisphere.

The issue is two-fold.

Firstly, the rain in NSW will potentially see 6 million tonnes of high protein wheat downgraded to feed wheat as test weights tumble and sprouting renders it unusable for the milling process.

The domestic stockfeed industry may be "jumping for joy" as feed wheat values plummet. But the millers are scrambling for cover.

The second area of concern is WA, where the protein profile is a major headache.

It seems that this year's crop has directed its energy toward quantity rather than quality.

With about 25pc of the crop harvested, 47.5pc of receivals to date are being directed into the ASW1 stack.

Last year, only 28pc of receivals were classified as ASW1.

The stack average is at about 8.5pc protein, compared to almost 9pc last year.

This year, only 28.7pc of the receivals are being classified into premium hard wheat bins.

Last year, 47.8pc of total harvest receivals went into the H1, H2, APW1 or APW2 bins.

Collectively, these issues will diminish blending opportunities and will drastically reduce the amount of high-quality Australian milling wheat available for export in the next 12 months - despite the bigger crop.

For a full list of Australia grain receival standards go to: https://www.graintrade.org.au/commodity_standards

This story Gloss gone from NSW crop but records may tumble in some states first appeared on The Land.