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Australia - Cotton production falls to lowest level since 1970s

With much of the country still gripped by drought, only one-third of Australia’s usual summer crops have been planted this year.

The latest Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) report predicts the total summer crop production to fall by 66 percent to just 878,000 tonnes — the lowest yield in more than a decade.

“That’s an extremely low level of production by historic standards, and it’s really all driven by the seasonal conditions that have occurred in northern New South Wales and Queensland this year, particularly in southern Queensland,” ABARES senior economist Peter Collins said.

“When the planting window opened for summer cropping the soil moisture levels were at extremely low levels because of the drier than average and hotter than average winter that we’d had.”

NSW and Queensland growers hardest hit

A record low of 101,000 hectares has been planted across NSW, with sorghum and cotton production falling by 66 percent.

Just 12,000ha of sorghum has been planted, with yields expected to fall by nearly 90 percent, while just a fifth of cotton has been planted, mainly due to restricted irrigation supplies.

Queensland growers managed to plant 239,000ha of summer crops overall, with cotton and sorghum falling by 85 percent.

Moree-based agronomist Tony Lockrey said it was a “clear-cut decision” for northern NSW growers not to plant a summer crop due to low soil moisture levels for dryland cotton growers and limited allocations for irrigators.

“This would be the first time in 25 years that I haven’t had a summer crop in the ground to check in the farms that I look after,” Mr. Lockrey said.

“There’s certainly a little bit in the district, but very little.

“It’s our smallest summer crop, I’d say, since the 1970s around Moree.

“In my agronomy experience on the Darling Downs, around Moree, and even on the Liverpool Plains, it’s extremely rare not to have a summer crop — it’s a big part of the cropping program.

“It was a decision that was made for us because we didn’t have the chance to establish a crop.”

Some growers have taken a punt on late sowing, but they are not expecting strong yields.

“On the [Darling] Downs I know they have a crop in now, they’ve got an extremely late sorghum and a few sunflowers and a few mung beans going in or that have gone in because their break for this season came to a couple of weeks before us, and their season is a little bit longer too,” Mr. Lockrey said.

“So they’ll be warmer for longer and their first frost is a bit later than ours, so we’ve really run out of the window now. We’re out of time to grow a proper commercial summer crop really.”

‘Standout performer’

While the northern states struggled, parts of Victoria saw timely and sufficient rainfall boost crops and increase overall production.

“In major growing regions like the Wimmera and the Western Districts, seasonal conditions in the Victorian cropping districts have been quite good all the way through, and in those regions above average yields are estimated to have taken place,” Mr. Collins said.

“Not all of Victoria had it good — the northern Mallee, and also the north-eastern parts of the Victorian cropping zone, had a drier than average year, so they haven’t done as well as the Wimmera and Western Districts, but overall crop production in Victoria is set to be above average.

“Victoria has been the standout performer.”

South Australia and Western Australia have had a stronger season than NSW and Queensland, but production is still expected to be below average.

“Even though Western Australia and South Australia have had below-average production, if you go back over the past 20 years, in both states, there are about five or six years in which both of those states had lower production than what’s been estimated this year,” Mr. Collins said.

‘Massive winter crop’ expected for northern NSW

Widespread, heavy rain has started replenishing soil profiles across northern NSW and a bright future is on the horizon for winter crops.

“We feel like we might actually be in with a chance of getting a crop this year, which is fantastic,” Mr. Lockrey said.

For some growers, it has been years since they have harvested a successful commercial crop.

“We’re certainly excited about the opportunity to be productive again, a lot of machinery and a lot of resources, including our most valuable resource — our people — have not been getting enough work in terms of being productive,” Mr. Lockrey said.

“And we’ve lost some people from the district for that reason, which is really going to hurt us as we build back up.

“But we’re starting to build a profile, so I expect that we’ll have a massive winter crop now.”

Source – https://www.abc.net.au