2020-21 year was a year to be remembered, with a record winter crop haul and firm prices underpinning $8.0 billion in cropping output. Along with the conducive seasonal conditions, the timely early season break provided producers confidence to utilise fallowed land for crop production in 2020-21. Strong livestock prices and difficulty sourcing stock due to high re-stocking demand, provided an added incentive to generate relatively short turn around crop returns. The resulting record winter crop production was spurred on by record yields for most key commodities, while summer crop plantings benefitted from improved water availability across the basin.

While prices received for most crops declined from the drought induced peaks, most remained above the long term trend, with dry conditions in key Northern Hemisphere production regions and strong demand underpinned by varying levels of COVID economic recovery, government stimulus in many countries and ongoing pork herd rebuilding efforts in China. Canola prices were a standout - albeit mostly after the crop had been marketed off farm, as our key competitors, Canada and France, both experienced dry conditions to create production concerns, which combined with lower stock levels helped to bolster domestic prices.

Cropping Output 2020-21

  • Output 2020-21
  • Y.o.y. % change
Source: DPI (2021)

Better winter crop variety selection to boost farm profits

The popular NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) winter crop variety sowing guide is now available to assist grain growers and agronomists make better cropping decisions to increase production and profitability.

The guide has been updated with the latest yield performance, new variety characteristics, grain quality, disease tolerance, weed management, rotations and nutrition, based on the latest research and development results from both NSW DPI and national variety trial programs.

Download the guide
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Look out for locusts this spring

With bumper crops on the horizon for much of the state, Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall has urged landholders to be on the lookout for locust activity this spring and report any sightings immediately.

“Landholders are our eyes on the ground across NSW and by reporting locust activity early, it helps build a picture of the state-wide situation,” Mr Marshall said.

“Local Land Services (LLS) biosecurity staff are trained in locust identification and control options, so if you think you’ve found signs of activity, reach out immediately.” Adult plague locusts usually lay eggs in harder loamy red soils, especially on compact roads next to crops, tree lines and farm buildings, especially those built on higher ground such as ridges.

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Winter Crops

Crop Price Index

  • Grain Index
  • Oilseeds Index
  • Pulses Index
Source: DPI (2021)

Grain index is an average of wheat, barley, oats, triticale, sorghum and maize prices. Oilseeds includes canola prices. Pulses is an average of chickpeas, field peas, fababeans and lupins prices. 2013 Quarter 3 represents 100.

The winter crop season benefitted from an optimally timed break in the prevailing seasonal conditions of the past three years. January 2020 had recorded mostly average to below average rainfall in most areas of the state, however the picture began to change rapidly in February with above average rainfall in the south and very much above average rainfall in the northern cropping districts. 52 As a result, root zone soil moisture improved to mostly above average in the month of February alone, a feature that prevailed for the remainder of the season. 53 The 3 months to June resulted in average to above average rainfall across all cropping districts, while the rainfall in the second part of the season was average in the North and South of the state and above average in large areas of the Central West. 52

These conditions fostered an optimal season for winter cropping operations, with many taking advantage of abundant long fallow land, lower livestock numbers and the early break to achieve plantings 14% higher than the 10-year moving average, at 6.1 million hectares. As the season went on, conditions allowed for increased yields overall, and record yields in the major winter crops of wheat, barley, canola and chickpeas. Overall winter crop production was up 83% on the 10-year moving average and reached extraordinary levels with 18.98 million tonnes produced, which was a record for not only NSW, but across all state jurisdictions to date. 4

Summer Crops

The same improved seasonal conditions that benefitted the winter crop production also assisted summer crops through a range of key drivers for summer crop production. The first of these benefits were delivered through significantly improved soil moisture which was average to above average in most summer cropping regions through the September to November planting window, and vastly improved compared to the year prior. 53 Significant rainfall through storms in early February 2020 created localised flooding in the Namoi and Gwydir valleys, which also helped to boost on farm water storage levels in the Northern Basin. d 99 The improved rainfall conditions also resulted in substantially improved General Security (GS) water allocations in the Southern Basin c , particularly the Murrumbidgee which reached 46% GS allocations around the key planting period in mid-September. The Northern Basin d valley storages did not see significant inflows however, and as a result overall GS allocation only reached 7% around September 2020 compared to 0% the year prior. 98

Production of summer crops rebounded with the improved conditions with overall production up sharply year on year but still down 14% on the 10-year moving average. However, results were mixed for different crops, regions and even at a farm level with many influencing factors, such as localised flooding, generally cool conditions at key times, access to water resources and mice damage as some examples.

Regulated River Water Allocations c d

  • General Security
  • High Security
  • Carryover (GS)
Source: DPIE (2021)
Cotton production increased across all valleys, with relatively high production levels in valleys such as Walgett/Bourke and the Namoi but lower relative production levels in the Gwydir, Macintyre, Macquarie and Southern valleys. 56 Rice production in southern NSW received a significant boost from the general security water allocations and as a result production reached 450 thousand tonnes, which was almost a 10 fold increase in production from the year prior.
Rice yields were extremely variable even at a farm level with the impact largely attributed to a cool summer over the key panicle initiation and microspore period. Sorghum production like other crops had a variable season with planting time, location and the impact of mice at harvest all influencing the result. Overall sorghum production increased by 6.7% on the 10-year moving average to 494 thousand tonnes. 4


Field from the air
Favourable winter weather systems for much of NSW will again benefit the winter crop with production forecast to be 49% above the 10 year moving average at 16 million tonnes in total for NSW in 2021-22. 4 These weather systems have also continued to improve the water availability in both the Northern and Southern Murray Darling Basin, with overall GS allocations estimated at approximately 49% and 60% for the Northern d and Southern c Basins respectively as at 10 August 2021. 98

Global production concerns are likely to be supportive of prices in the short term also. More specifically Canola prices are expected to remain supported with ongoing dry conditions creating production concerns in Canada. The August World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report revised down Canada’s canola production by an astounding 4.2 million tonnes or 20.8%, reflecting the deteriorating condition of the canola crop and crop abandonment. 208

Wheat prices are also likely to be supported with some of the largest exporters facing production woes. Russia’s spring wheat yields were down on expectations due to unusually dry and hot July, while Russian winter wheat estimates continue to be revised down with planting failures higher than average. 197 Canada and Argentina are also facing dry conditions which is affecting production potential, with Canada’s production forecasts being revised down, while global stocks are also estimated to be at the lowest point since 2016. 199 208 This is likely to result in a better competitive position for Australia leading into what is expected to be an above average crop.