June 10, 2018 / 4:13 AM / 10 days ago

Rain brings wheat relief in Australia's west

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Relieved farmers in Australia’s export-focused west are celebrating good rainfall at the end of the winter wheat-planting window, although conditions remain parched in the eastern states.

Sheep eat grain on a drought-affected paddock on a property located on the outskirts of Tamworth, located in the north-west of New South Wales in Australia, June 2, 2018. Picture taken June 2, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

The rain has provided relief to some parts of the country after difficult conditions threatened to cut crop yields for a second successive season in the world’s fourth-largest wheat exporter.

“We’ve had an inch of rain in the last three or four days so things are on the improve. Our crops should all emerge now so - pretty happy at the moment,” said John Nicoletti, one of Australia’s biggest wheat farmers.

Nicoletti sowed his wheat across more than 70,000 hectares (180,000 acres) of dry soil last month with only a hope of rain.

Farm worker Glenn McCosker watches sheep eat grain as he sits atop a feeder as it moves around a drought-affected paddock on a property located on the outskirts of Tamworth, located in the north-west of New South Wales in Australia, June 2, 2018. Picture taken June 2, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

The skies then opened in late May giving the 2018 growing season an unexpectedly strong start.

“It’s all smiles at the moment,” Nicoletti told Reuters on Friday.

Slideshow (4 Images)

The state of Western Australia generates half of Australia’s total wheat production, according to government data. West coast wheat is largely exported to Asia and the Middle East, while the east coast supplies much of the nation’s domestic market.

Australian farmers harvested an estimated 21.2 million tonnes of wheat in winter 2017/18, down 38 percent from a record crop of 34.4 million tonnes in 2016/17 according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Agriculture, Resource Economics and Rural Sciences (ABARES).

Growers in the second-biggest wheat supplier to Asia had until the end of May to plant, and have been counting on good rains across both east and western crop regions, farmers, traders and analysts said.

Some east coast farmers replaced wheat with canola, which has a later planting window, as they wait for rain.

“There will be many farmers like myself that will sow more canola than they might have thought,” said Dan Cooper, a farmer in Caragabal, 400 km (250 miles) west of Sydney.

Lower eastern wheat plantings will reduce national output, analysts said.

“We have trimmed our wheat forecast by a million tonnes to 23.5 million on reduced plantings and there is plenty of scope to bring that number down even more if the dry weather continues,” commodity analyst James Maxwell said.

Reporting by Jonathan Barrett and Colin Packham in SYDNEY. Additional reporting by Gavin Maguire. Writing by Alison Bevege. Editing by Richard Pullin

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