SOUTH AFRICA: ADEQUATE TO SURPLUS MOISTURE FOR SUMMER CROPS
During November 1998, frequent, near to above-normal rainfall maintained adequate to abundant moisture reserves for the establishment of corn and other summer crops. During the first week of December, widespread, locally heavy rain maintained favorable growing conditions for corn and summer crops. Showers were more scattered during the second week of December across South Africa's corn growing areas, but were enough to maintain favorable establishment and vegetative development. Corn planted as early as October (planted mainly in the eastern growing areas), most likely nears its reproductive phases of development by the end of December. Planting in general winds down during mid-December. During December 13 - 19, unseasonably heavy rain overspread important wheat growing areas of Western and Eastern Cape Provinces. While this rain helped end a brief heat wave, the unusual event may have lodged some unharvested wheat. This rain moved north and east later in the week again favoring corn in the northern and central corn belts. Prior to this rain drier conditions aided corn, sugarcane, and other summer crops which were becoming too wet from previous weeks' rainfall. From December 20 - 26, drier weather returned to the corn belt, with just a few locations reporting rainfall in excess of 25 millimeters. Rain continued to be light along coastal sugarcane areas of KwaZulu-Natal, but moderate showers farther inland reached irrigated sugarcane areas surrounding Swaziland. In Western Cape, dry, seasonably warm weather brought some relief to excessively wet fields. During December 27 through January 2, widespread showers returned to the corn belt, keeping the mostly vegetative crop well watered. Greatest amounts of precipitation fell from the Northern Province southward through Mpumalango into the sugarcane areas of KwaZulu-Natal. Elsewhere, precipitation amounts in the Orange Free State ranged from 10 to 25 millimeters. The excessively wet Western Cape continued to benefit from seasonably dry weather.
BRAZIL: MOISTURE FOR SUMMER CROPS NEEDED IN SOUTHERN BRAZIL
During November 1998, below-normal rainfall stressed germinating soybeans and vegetative corn in extreme southern Brazil. Near-normal rainfall maintained adequate soil moisture elsewhere in southern Brazil. During the first week of December, little to no rain fell across Rio Grande do Sul, causing topsoils to become unfavorably dry for soybean planting. Scattered showers prevailed in northern Rio Grande growing areas, and moderate showers covered other major soybean areas, boosting moisture supplies in Parana and maintaining adequate supplies elsewhere. During December 6 - 19, rain brought relief to stressed soybeans and corn in Rio Grande do Sul. Farther north, widespread showers maintained favorable soil moisture for summer crop development. Heavier rains caused some flooding in Sao Paulo. During December 20 - 26, rain continued to benefit soybeans and corn in Rio Grande do Sul and Parana. Elsewhere, widespread showers maintained favorable soil moisture for summer crop development. From December 27 through January 2, light to moderate rain maintained topsoils moisture for soybeans and corn across Rio Grande do Sul and Parana. However, more rain is needed to keep pace with increasing crop water demands. Elsewhere in southern Brazil, moderate widespread showers maintained favorable soil moisture for summer crop development.
ARGENTINA: SHOWERS BENEFIT CENTRAL SUMMER CROP AREAS
During November 1998, below-normal rainfall stressed germinating soybeans and vegetative corn in cental Argentina, while below-normal rainfall stressed reproductive winter wheat in southern Buenos Aires. During the first week of December, dry weather continued and maintained unfavorable conditions for soybean and corn planting and germination in central Argentina, especially in northern Buenos Aires. Farther south in Buenos Aires, light rain provided little relief for filling to maturing winter wheat. Timely rain fell in central Argentina during December 6 - 12, improving conditions for young summer crops. Dry weather continued to stress filling wheat across southern Buenos Aires. Widespread rain increased soil moisture for cotton in northern Argentina. Widespread rain continued across central Argentina during December 13 - 19. This rainfall covered the main summer crop areas in central Argentina, boosting soil moisture for vegetative corn and germinating soybeans. Rainfall also reached southern Buenos Aires, but came too late to improve winter wheat crop prospects. Moderate showers again favored germinating cotton in northern Argentina. From December 20 - 26, widespread rain in central Argentina, covered southern Cordoba and southern Santa Fe, aiding reproductive corn and vegetative soybeans. Lighter amounts prevailed across Buenos Aires, with only isolated showers reported in the central portion of the province. Mostly dry weather in southern Buenos Aires aided winter wheat maturation and harvesting. From December 27 through January 2, light to moderate rain covered the main summer crop areas of central Argentina, aiding reproductive corn and vegetative soybeans. In northern Argentina, heavy showers boosted moisture supplies for vegetative cotton, but possibly caused some local flooding.
THAILAND: RICE OUTPUT REDUCED DUE TO UNFAVORABLE WEATHER
Thailand's 1998/99 rice crop is estimated at 14.3 million tons (milled basis), down 0.7 million from last month and down 5 percent from last season. Yield is estimated at 2.35 tons per hectare, down 4 percent from last month, but near the 5-year average. According to the U.S. agricultural attache in Bangkok, the main crop--accounting for nearly 80 percent of the total-- is below last year's crop for the following reasons. Inadequate rainfall in the lower northeast at the end of the rainy season during the flowering and grain-filling stages reduced yields and unusual rain during the peak harvesting period destroyed some of the crop that was field drying. In addition, an outbreak of brown plant hoppers was reported in some areas in the lower north. However, favorable weather in the north, upper northeast, and central plains compensated for some crop losses. The average milling yield for the main crop seems to be below normal with lower head yield and more broken kernels. Two unusually heavy rain events in late November and a few days of light showers in early December reduced milling quality of this year's crop. In addition, current water levels in the major reservoirs are lower than normal and may hinder planting of the second-rice crop. The Government has already instructed farmers to reduce the area.
ARGENTINA: SOYBEAN PRODUCTION ESTIMATED HIGHER
Argentina's 1998/99 soybean production is estimated at 17.5 million tons, up 0.5 million or 3 percent from last month, but down 6 percent from last year's record crop. The estimated harvested area remains unchanged from last month at 7.3 million hectares with yields falling from the record 2.67 tons per hectare set in 1997/98 to 2.40 this year, the second highest yield on record. Earlier dryness combined with higher anticipated returns encouraged some farmers in the Province of Buenos Aires to shift acreage from corn to soybeans and sunflowerseed. Near-normal rainfall during December benefitted the soybean crop in the key central area including southern Cordoba, southern Santa Fe, and northern Buenos Aires. Rainfall during December improved soybean prospects somewhat in southern Buenos Aires, but more is needed to stabilize the crop.
BRAZIL: SOYBEAN CROP RECOVERS FROM EARLIER DRYNESS
Brazil's 1998/99 soybean crop--the second highest on record--is estimated at 29.5 million tons, up 2 percent from December, but down 5 percent from last year's record crop of 31.0 million tons. Planting of the soybean crop is nearing completion over most of the country; dryness in November contributed to a small shift in acreage from corn to soybeans in parts of Rio Grade do Sul and Parana. The estimated harvested area remains unchanged from last month, at 12.8 million hectares. Near-normal to normal rainfall in December was favorable for the soybean crop, especially in the States of Mato Grosso and Parana. Recent rains benefitted soybeans in Rio Grande do Sul; however, more rainfall is needed to replenish moisture reserves depleted by the earlier dryness.
CHINA: COTTON PRODUCTION HIGHER THAN EXPECTED IN 1998/99
China's 1998/99 cotton production is estimated at 19.8 million bales (4.3 million tons), up 5 percent from last month due to a higher estimated yield. In December, the State Statistical Bureau (SSB) estimated China's 1998/99 cotton output at 19.9 million bales, down 6 percent from last year. The SSB estimate was larger than those by the Ministry of Agriculture and other government agencies, which put the crop from18.4 to 19.8 million bales. Production in Xinjiang Province, China's largest cotton producer, reportedly soared to 6.3 million bales in 1998/99, more than 1 million bales higher than its previous record crop in 1997/98. Xinjiang's increased output partially offset serious crop losses in central China caused by excessive rainfall and widespread flooding last summer.
UNITED STATES: CROP CONDITION AND PROGRESS
Winter wheat development in parts of the central and southern Plains, Corn Belt, Southeast, and lower Mississippi Delta was stimulated early in the month by warm weather. Many record high temperatures were recorded east of the Rocky Mountains. Wheat areas in the northern Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest, and southern High Plains received beneficial precipitation. Dry conditions assisted late-season harvest efforts and fall tillage operations in most of the Corn Belt, Southeast, and middle Atlantic Coastal Plain. Warm, dry weather relieved muddy field conditions and allowed harvest activities to resume in parts of the northern Plains and upper Mississippi Valley. Heavy rains temporarily halted fieldwork in parts of the southern and central Great Plains, from eastern Texas to eastern Kansas, and coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest, from northern California to the Canadian border.
As mid-month approached, temperatures fell to more seasonal levels, ending winter wheat growth in the central and northern Great Plains and Corn Belt. Seeding of small grains and winter forages continued in California, but were hampered by wet soils in many areas. Cool, cloudy weather slowed growth of emerging crops in the San Joaquin Valley, while wheat fields in the Sacramento Valley were growing well with additional moisture. Poor drying conditions hampered cotton harvesting in the Central Valley, and the lint quality declined in unharvested fields. Vegetable harvest activity was slowed by frost, but fruit and nut harvest was active. In Texas, small grain growth was slowed in the Plains by freezing temperatures and snow. Cotton growth ended following a hard freeze; and final harvest, temporarily halted by snow, resumed late in the week. Grain sorghum and peanut harvests were nearly complete in the Plains. In South Central Texas, the final peanut harvest was hampered by wet fields. Warm, dry weather continued to delay small grain emergence in the Southeast, where soil moisture was becoming increasingly short. However, the dry weather allowed vegetable planting and harvesting activities to proceed on schedule in Florida. Picking quality and color were good and growth of recently planted vegetable crops was normal.
Shortly after mid-month, an arctic airmass brought frigid temperatures to the Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains, and the coldest temperatures of the winter to the Great Plains and the western Corn Belt. Most winter wheat fields in the northern Plains had some snow cover, providing minimal protection from the sudden cold, windy conditions. In the southern Plains, daytime temperatures remained warm enough to promote growth of small grains. Scattered fertilizing and tillage activities continued unhindered by the cold weather in the Great Plains, Corn Belt, Mississippi Delta, and Southeast. In South Dakota, soils were firm enough to allow farmers to harvest most of the remaining corn and sorghum crops. Dry weather also aided harvest efforts in the southern Plains, where a few isolated cotton and sorghum fields remained unharvested. Northern Florida experienced below-freezing readings, but vegetable and fruit crops in central and southern areas of the state were not affected. In California, growers harvested vegetables in the Imperial and Coastal Valleys, pruned orchards in the Sacramento Valley, and planted winter wheat and oats in the San Joaquin Valley. Mild temperatures aided winter wheat development in the Sacramento Valley and vegetable crops were developing well in the San Joaquin Valley.
As the end of the month approached, another bitter cold airmass pushed southward out of western Canada into the western and central United States. Several nights of sub-freezing temperatures damaged citrus crops in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, but southern California citrus escaped major damage. The lemon crop was especially hard hit. Freeze damage to California's vegetable crops was not as severe, but the cold weather halted winter vegetable harvest activities. A stormy pattern resumed along the Pacific Northwest coast. Snow, followed by mild and rainy weather, raised streams to their banks in some areas. In Texas, mild temperatures aided winter wheat growth, and most fields provided good forage for grazing. Dry conditions continued to assist harvest efforts as cotton, sorghum, peanuts, and soybeans were virtually complete. Precipitation in the Southeast provided beneficial moisture for winter crops, but freezing rain downed power lines from the central Mississippi Delta to the middle Atlantic States. In Florida, rains eased dryness in the Panhandle, but the remainder of the State remained dry. Vegetable and citrus growers increased irrigation, and harvesting continued until late in the month when many took a break to observe the holiday. Most citrus groves were in good condition, but some were stressed by excessive dryness.
FORMER SOVIET UNION: WEATHER AND CROP DEVELOPMENTS
In December, above-normal precipitation fell in Russia, increasing moisture reserves. The combination of mild weather and abundant moisture in key winter wheat producing areas of the North Caucasus region improved conditions for dormant crops, following unfavorable dryness in the fall. Elsewhere in Russia, winter grains remained under a moderate to deep snow cover during the month. In Ukraine, below-normal precipitation was observed in most of the country, except in the extreme east, where precipitation was above-normal. A protective snow cover persisted in the northern half of Ukraine during December. Snow cover in southern Ukraine gradually diminished during the month. Elsewhere, below-normal precipitation was observed in southern Belarus, with above-normal precipitation falling in northern Belarus and the Baltics. Overwintering conditions in December were mostly favorable for winter grains in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltics. However, there was a brief cold snap from December 23 to 26, with minimum temperatures ranging from -17 to -30 degrees C in most areas. The exceptions were in extreme southern Ukraine and the North Caucasus region in Russia, where temperatures ranged from -8 to -15 degrees C. Snow cover was adequate to protect winter grains from widespread damage in areas experiencing the lowest temperatures. Since early January, mild weather provided favorable overwintering conditions for winter grains in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltics. However, daytime high temperatures rose above freezing in most areas, melting protective snow cover.
Tom Puterbaugh (202) 720-2012
FEATURE COMMODITY ARTICLES
WORLD SUNFLOWERSEED PRODUCTION
World sunflowerseed production for 1998/99 is estimated at a record 26.5 million tons, up 11 percent from 1997/98. Strong demand in some major producing countries induced the higher output, but unfavorable economic factors and weather resulted in steady or reduced output in other countries. Harvested area is estimated at a record 21.7 million hectares, up 10 percent from last year. Yield is estimated at 1.22 tons per hectare, virtually unchanged from last year and equal to the 5-year average. (See Chart, Tables)
The harvest is complete or nearing completion for the 1998/99 marketing year in Northern Hemisphere countries, while planting is nearly complete in Southern Hemisphere countries such as Argentina, the world's largest producer.
United States: The National Agricultural Statistics Service of the United States Department of Agriculture estimates the U.S. sunflowerseed harvest for 1998/99 at 2.4 million tons, up 0.7 million or 43 percent from 1997/98. Falling prices for wheat and strong demand for sunflowers led to relatively favorable sunflowerseed prices and more area devoted to sunflower production. Harvested area is estimated at 1.4 million hectares in 1998/99, up 25 percent from last year. Yield is estimated at 1.69 tons per hectare, up 14 percent from last year. Despite dryness in western North Dakota early in the season and drought in Texas, precipitation was generally favorable.
The U.S. sunflowerseed crop trended downward from record production of 3.3 million tons in 1979/80 to a low point of 0.8 million in 1989/90. Since then, output has been volatile varying between 1.0 and 2.2 million tons.
Argentina: Argentina is the world's leading producer of sunflowerseed, accounting for 23 percent of world production. The major growing areas in Argentina include the Provinces of Buenos Aires (61%), Cordoba (14%), La Pampa (11%), and Santa Fe (10%). The 1998/99 sunflowerseed crop is estimated at 6.7 million tons, up 22 percent from last year's output of 5.5 million tons. Harvested area is estimated at 3.8 million hectares, up 15 percent from last year due to strong demand and favorable prices relative to wheat and other grains. Nearly all of the crop was reported planted by January 1, 1999. Yield is forecast at 1.79 tons per hectare, up 6 percent from last season's crop which suffered considerable damage from heavy rains at harvest time. Rainfall has been generally favorable resulting in good soil moisture for the emerging crop.
Russia: Sunflowerseed production for 1998/99 is estimated at 2.8 million tons. Despite a 15-percent increase in sown area, to a record-matching 4.1 million hectares, output is virtually unchanged from 1997/98. Persistent drought in key producing regions, combined with a continued reduction in the application of fertilizers and plant-protection chemicals, drove yields to the lowest level in over 35 years. The drought was most intense in the Volga Valley, where estimated yield dropped over 30 percent from last year and production dipped to 0.6 million tons. In the North Caucasus, a 15-percent increase in area boosted production over last season by 0.3 million tons, to an estimated 1.5 million. Yield, however, was only marginally better than last year, when the crop was plagued by persistent wetness.
Ukraine: As in Russia, the 1998/99 sunflowerseed output in Ukraine is estimated at last year's level. Production is estimated at 2.3 million tons with area at a near-record 2.1 million hectares. Yield was hampered by extremely dry conditions in southeastern Ukraine, the country's prime sunflower growing region. The past five years have been marked by a drop in sunflowerseed yields, resulting from unfavorable weather and reduced inputs. Yield has averaged 1.11 tons per hectare over the past five years, compared to 1.56 tons per hectare for the preceding five years.
France: France's sunflowerseed production for 1998/99 is estimated at 1.8 million tons, down 12 percent from last year and the lowest since 1993/94. Production is down from last year due to reduced area. Yield in 1998/99 is estimated at 2.22 tons per hectare, virtually unchanged from last year. Continuous rains during harvest lowered potential yield. Harvested area for the 1998/99 is estimated at 0.8 million hectares, down 12 percent from last year, as more winter crops were planted.
India: While India ranks as the world's third largest in sunflower area, lower yield places India sixth in total production relative to other countries. Production for 1998/99 is estimated at 1.5 million tons, up 7 percent from last season. A record yield of 0.68 tons per hectare is estimated for the 1998/99 season during which India saw its eleventh consecutive favorable monsoon. This season enjoyed a strong monsoon, with 31 of the 35 weather districts reporting normal or above normal rainfall. This season's 0.1 million hectare increase in area was due to the prevailing high prices for sunflower seed and oil caused by increasing demand. The use of refined sunflower oil is gaining popularity in several segments of the population including health conscious consumers.
Spain: Sunflowerseed production in Spain in 1998/99 is estimated at 1.3 million tons, down 5 percent from 1997/98. This year, favorable rainfall in May was followed by dryness in northeastern Spain which stressed the crop. However, adequate rainfall later in the growing season allowed the crop to finish well. Overall, the season is considered good, but less favorable than a year earlier. Yield is estimated at 1.30 tons per hectare, down 8 percent from the record 1.41 tons set in 1997/98. Area harvested for 1998/99 is estimated at 1.0 million hectares, similar to last year's level.
China: China is the world's eighth largest producer of sunflowerseed, accounting for 5 percent of world production in 1998/99. Output is estimated at 1.3 million tons, up 6 percent from last year's drought-reduced crop. Abundant summer rainfall this season and favorable harvest conditions resulted in above average yield. Sunflowerseed is a minor oilseed crop in China, trailing behind soybeans, peanuts, rapeseed, and cottonseed. In the mid-1980's, China's sunflowerseed area exceeded 1.5 million hectares, but changes in farming practices and continued disease problems led to a sharp decline in planted area. Since 1993/94, area and production have remained relatively stable, at 0.7 to 0.8 million hectares and 1.2 to 1.4 million tons. Production is concentrated in Inner Mongolia, which accounted for nearly 50 percent of total sunflowerseed output in 1997/98.
Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Xinjiang Provinces are also important producers. Sunflowerseeds are grown primarily for food use in the northeast, but most of the crop in Xinjiang is crushed for oil.
Paul Provance, Oilseeds Chairperson
Telephone: (202) 720-0882
Rao Achutuni, Argentina Analyst
Telephone: (202) 690-0140
Mark Lindeman, FSU Analyst
Telephone: (202) 690-0143
Paulette Sandene, China Analyst
Telephone: (202) 690-0133
Jim Crutchfield, India Analyst
Telephone: (202) 690-0135
Total-grain production in Southern Africa for 1998/99 is forecast at 20.4 million tons, up from 18.9 million in 1997/98. Area harvested in 1998/99 is forecast at 13.1 million hectares, virtually unchanged from 1997/98. For the purpose of this article, Southern Africa includes the following countries: Angola, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. (Charts, Tables)
In Southern Africa, the overall growing conditions have been favorable due to adequate rains in several countries. Grain production is estimated to increase in Angola, Lesotho, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Grain production remains virtually unchanged in Madagascar, Mozambique, and Swaziland, while production is estimated to decrease in Malawi.
Angola: Total-grain production in Angola for 1998/99 is forecast at 0.6 million tons, up from 0.4 million in 1997/98. Area harvested in 1998/99 is forecast at 0.8 million hectares, unchanged from last year. The main grain crops produced are corn and millet with output forecast at 0.5 million and 0.1 million tons, respectively. Recent beneficial rains in the main grain producing areas of the Central Plateau benefitted the corn and millet crops. However, agricultural activities continue to be hampered by shortages of fertilizer, seeds, and the displacement of rural people from their farms because of intensified violence in several parts of the country.
Lesotho: In Lesotho, total-grain production for 1998/99 is forecast at 0.2 million tons, up from 0.1 million in 1997/98. Area harvested in 1998/99 is forecast at 0.1 million hectares, the same as last year. The main grain crops produced are corn and sorghum forecast at 0.1 million tons and 35,000 tons, respectively. The country had normal rains in October that encouraged land preparation and early sowing. Rainfall has been near normal through the first part of the growing season.
Madagascar: Total-grain production in Madagascar for 1998/99 is forecast at 1.8 million tons, virtually unchanged from last year. Area harvested in 1998/99 is forecast at 1.4 million hectares, also unchanged from the previous year. The main grain crops produced are rice and corn which are forecast at 1.7 million (milled basis) and 0.2 million tons, respectively. Heavy rains followed by light rains favored the transplanting of the main paddy crop. The overall situation in the country is projected to remain relatively stable including the drought prone south where some locust damage to crops was reported.
Malawi: In Malawi, total-grain production for 1998/99 is forecast at 1.6 million tons, down from 1.8 million in 1997/98. Area harvested in 1998/99 is forecast at 1.3 million hectares, unchanged from 1997/98. The main grain crop produced is corn which is forecast at 1.6 million tons. In the north, excessive rain at planting caused flooding and crop losses, but light rain followed prompting replanting. Yield is forecast to be slightly above average.
Mozambique: Total-grain production in Mozambique for 1998/99 is forecast at 1.6 million tons, unchanged from the previous year. Area harvested in 1998/99 is forecast at 1.8 million hectares, unchanged from 1997/98. Corn, sorghum, and rice are the main grain crops produced and are forecast at 1.1 million, 0.3 million, and 0.1 million (milled basis) tons, respectively. Some rain received in late-October favored early planting, but localized areas had some flooding in the north. Below normal rainfall followed and is stressing the crop.
South Africa: Total-grain production for 1998/99 in the Republic of South Africa is estimated at 11.0 million tons, up 0.7 million from last season. Harvested area is estimated at 4.9 million hectares, down 8 percent from 1997/98. Favorable rainfall across the corn growing regions since mid-October provided plentiful soil moisture conducive for planting. Accordingly, farmers increased their planting intentions for corn up to an estimated 3.2 million hectares. Although corn can be planted into mid-January, most of the corn was planted earlier due to the exceptional weather. Late-January and early-February temperatures will be critical, as temperatures can peak in the 40's Celsius during pollination and severely damage yield potential. Corn production is estimated at 9.0 million tons, up 1.5 million from 1997/98. For wheat, depressed world prices caused producers to reduce area year-to-year by 46 percent, to 0.8 million hectares. Production is pegged at 1.5 million tons, down 0.8 million from last year as the decrease in area more than offset a yield of 1.97 tons per hectare, the second highest level.
Swaziland: In Swaziland, total-grain production for 1998/99 is forecast at 0.1 million tons, unchanged from the previous year. Area harvested in 1998/99 is forecast at 64,000 hectares, unchanged from 1997/98. Corn is the main grain crop produced and is forecast at 0.1 million tons in 1998/99. Above normal rainfall in early-October and moderate precipitation at the end of the month allowed sowing of the corn crop. To-date, the crops are in good condition due to above normal rainfall.
Zambia: Total-grain production for 1998/99 is estimated at 1.2 million tons, up 0.4 million from last season's poor crop. Harvested area is estimated to return to a more-average level of 0.7 million hectares. Last season, poor weather and reduced fertilizer availability caused area and yield to decline significantly. However, this season, fertilizer availability (both cost and access) is reportedly slightly better than last season. Seasonal rainfall has been beneficial for the crops this year. Corn output is estimated at 1.0 million tons, up 0.3 million from 1997/98.
Zimbabwe: Total-grain production for 1998/99 is estimated at 2.4 million tons, up 0.5 million from a year ago. Harvested area is estimated at 1.9 million hectares, up 13 percent from 1997/98 due to a rebound in corn. Following last season's dry weather, the 1998/99 crop is off to a good start with widespread rainfall. Corn will be passing through the reproductive period later this month. No significant change in the use of chemicals or fertilizers is expected this season. Corn production is estimated at 1.9 million tons, up 0.4 million from last year. Harvested area is estimated at a near-average level of 1.5 million hectares. Wheat output is estimated at 0.3 million tons, about the same as last season.
Telephone: (202) 720-8887
SOUTHEAST AUSTRALIA TRIP REPORT
Analysts from USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, jointly traveled throughout New South Wales and Victoria during November 1998. The purpose of the trip was to assess 1998/99 crop production prospects following highly variable weather including severe flooding and drought in southeast Australia. In addition to extensive in-country travel, USDA personnel met with Australian officials responsible for crop assessment and remote sensing, regional Department of Agriculture officials, agronomists, agricultural research scientists, producers, and grain handling industry representatives. The following is a summary of field observations and discussions for the region's major crops.
New South Wales (NSW) experienced a highly variable season. Some areas saw excellent growing conditions, while others were affected by frost, flooding, and disease. Northern NSW and much of the central region received record rainfall. The excessive rainfall created abnormally wet conditions resulting in waterlogged patches, maturity differences, and general harvesting difficulties. Wet, humid conditions combined with below average temperatures created problems associated with fungal disease, excessive weeds, and harvesting delays. The southern and south-central growing areas had much more favorable seasonal conditions. However, late-season frosts damaged grains in some of the more southern growing areas.
The Mallee region, in northwest Victoria, was Australia's worst drought affected grain area resulting in sparse plant populations and small grain heads. The Wimmera and southern cropping region experienced a more favorable growing season with near average rainfall; however, frost in late-October reduced yield prospects.
The highly variable weather this season resulted in large variations in both yield and grain quality, even within relatively small geographic areas of southeast Australia. The bulk handling organizations managed this very difficult situation with great skill. Many grain receiving centers accepted several extra grades of grain to accommodate the high variability in quality. In addition, the Australian Wheat Board made an extra effort to minimize feed quality wheat by increasing the number of segregation's. Also, a larger number of growers will hold grain on-farm in hopes of better prices later this year.
In some grain regions of Australia, producers have the option to store grain on-farm to maximize their marketing options. This is a typical practice in most seasons when feed grain prices are depressed. However, this year there is a significant increase in on-farm holdings of weather damaged grain making receival figures this season a distorting indicator of actual production. The problem is complicated by the fact that many growers will keep poor quality grain on farm to use as feed during the winter or sell it privately. This is driven by the widespread low feed grain prices. Grain Corp, the NSW bulk handling organization, estimated that almost two million tons of wheat failed to make milling grades, while high screenings and low test weights excluded a large proportion of feed barley from the number one grade.
The success of this year's rapeseed crop makes rapeseed a promising crop to include in future rotations, despite erratic rainfall and late-season frosts. This year's late-season frost had only a minor impact on rapeseed oil content. For the 1999/2000 season, rapeseed area may increase dramatically as farmers respond to reported higher profits and greater familiarity with the crop. Better yielding varieties are being developed for the shorter-season dry areas of Victoria.
Sunflower production increased this season in NSW as a larger than normal area was planted. The larger planting of sunflowers and other summer crops took advantage of the previously flooded regions, especially around the Liverpool Plains in the north.
Cotton in NSW is estimated at a record planted area fro 1998/99. The majority of the area increase is in dryland planting. The factors which led to the larger planted area include water availability, soil moisture, winter crop losses, and strong prices, stemming from comparative currency and quality advantages. Most reservoirs and on-farm water storage systems were full at the beginning of the season for the irrigated crop.
The above average rains during the winter left the region with excellent soil moisture profiles to plant dryland cotton. Many farmers who lost winter crops to excessive rainfall planted cotton to offset their earlier losses. Prices for Australian cotton led many farmers to forward sell at record prices. This season, cotton plants were slow to develop due to cool temperatures. However, temperatures increased significantly and provided the necessary heat units to benefit the crop.
Overall the most notable agricultural change in southeast Australia is a shift from pasture to cropland. The decline in both wool and cattle prices caused producers to consider relatively more profitable agricultural activities such a rotational cropping. Crops with the most rapid area increase in the region are rapeseed and legumes. There will continue to be less area in pasture and more in rapeseed, legumes, and grains. Rapeseed and lentils are increasing in popularity as varieties improve and better agronomic management practices incorporated. However, some of the legumes, particularly lentils, are very susceptible to frost damage and therefore can be risky to grow. The grain area depends on market prices. This year's dryland cotton success will partly determine next season's planted area. If successful this season, it will increase the number of farmers who consider cotton as a viable summer dryland option.
|Australia's 1998/99 Forecasts|
Jim Crutchfield, Australia Analyst
Telephone: (202) 690-0135