Australian wheat farmers plant in dust bowl and pray for rain
Australian farmers are planting wheat in some of the driest soils in years, following on from a severe drought that cut 2017/18 output in the world’s fourth-largest wheat exporter to the lowest in a decade.
The difficult conditions for a second successive season threaten another disappointing crop, cutting the country’s export earnings and hitting profits of companies such as bulk grain handler GrainCorp Ltd.
Growers in the second-biggest wheat supplier to Asia have until the end of May to complete planting, but are counting on good rains across both east and west coast crop regions, farmers, traders and analysts said.
John Nicoletti, one of Australia’s biggest wheat farmers, said he had had no choice but to plant into dry soil and hope for rain.
“Sure, prices are looking good, but we do need rain,” said Nicoletti, who began planting last week on properties stretching over 87,000 hectares (215,000 acres) in export-focused Western Australia.
“If we get some cyclones tracking inland bringing rain, I won’t need to call you back to tell you, you’ll hear me yelling with joy.”
Australia’s latest winter, which runs from June to August, was the warmest since records began more than a century ago and also one of the 10 driest ever, sapping moisture ahead of this year’s planting.
Wheat production slid to 21.2 million tonnes in 2017/18 from an all-time high of 35.13 million tonnes the year before, according to the Australian Bureau of Agriculture, Resource Economics and Rural Sciences (ABARES).