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Sharon Johnson: Aussie wheat floods

After extraordinary issues with heavy rains and flooding last fall in Pakistan and then India along with problematic weather affecting China through its entire season, the market is more than a little sensitive to any additional challenges cotton producers may face in the southern hemisphere. Unfortunately, what began as a promising start to planting with unusually heavy rains last Oct/Nov in Australia has resulted in flooding not seen in 50 if not 100 years principally in the state of Queensland. 

Before we dive into how rain and its consequences have impacted production, let’s review where cotton is grown.  These two maps are both dated but show the location of cotton plantings in general. 

Per PECAD(USDA’s FAS Global Crop Production Analysis division)

Where is cotton grown in Australia? 

0106cotton1.jpg

Around 80 per cent of total production occurs in New South Wales, in the Macquarie Valley, the Namoi Valley, the Gwydir Valley and Bourke and the remainder in Queensland, in the Macintyre Valley, Darling Downs, St George, Theodore, Biloela and Emerald regions.

About 92 per centof total production and 85% of total area is under flood irrigation.  The area of cotton harvested in 2002-03 was estimated by ABARE at 203 000 hectares, being significantly reduced because of the drought. In 2000-01, the area harvested was 527 000 hectares.

Most Australian cotton farms are owned and operated by family farmers, with around 1500 spread across the Australian eastern states of Queensland and New South Wales. All of these farmers grow other crops and many graze sheep and cattle as well.

Where is Australian cotton produced? 

0106cotton2.jpg

In 1998, the Australian cotton industry occupied an area of 535,400 hectares. These production areas are generally restricted to inland southern/central Queensland and New South Wales. Australian cotton is currently grown in:

  • Northern Region (Emerald and Dawson-Callide districts)
  • Central Border Region (Macintyre Valley, Darling
  • Downs, St George-Dirranbandi, Namoi Valley and Gwydir Valley districts)
  • Southern Inland Region (Macquarie Valley, Bourke and Southern NSW districts)

Per Australian Natural Resources Atlas (ANRA)

Although this site’s information was a bit dated as well, it shows the key areas most of which are clustered in the Central Border Region.

Prior to this decade, the last Foreign Agricultural Service report put out in regards to Australian cotton was in Feb 2002. 

Australia Cotton: Conditions Favorable

USDA expects near-average yields for most New South Wales cotton valleys. Temperature and precipitation patterns in Queensland are similar enough to last season to anticipate above-average yields there as well.  Positive conditions in some parts of Queensland are corroborated with satellite data. The two Australian states account for over 99 percent of Australia's total cotton production.  Based on the last five seasons, New South Wales produces 72 percent of the crop, with Queensland accounting for the remainder.  The current crop was planted in November 2001, and will be harvested in April 2002. Queensland irrigated cotton comprised 85 percent of the cotton produced in Queensland.  New South Wales irrigated cotton production accounts for 94 percent of the state's total production.  Assuming adequate soil moisture, cotton yields are significantly dependent on warm sunny days.

The most recent FAS/PECAD report was issued just last month with the following headline “Excellent rainfall Raises prospect of a Record Cotton Crop”.  I am attaching that one page report in PDF format for you.  The increased rainfall was behind the WAOB decision to increase Australian cotton production from 3.5 mln to a record 4.0 mln 480-lb bales. 

Minor flooding has progressed to major flooding in Queensland and we have all seen the images of vast stretch of land, townships, etc submerged as a result.  The flooding has been for the most part confined to the coastal areas stretching from the most northern tip of Queensland down to where it meets New South Wales. This map courtesy of the Bureau of Meteorology of Australia shows the extent of rainfall during the month of December with the above-mentioned coastal area receive 300-600 mm (12-24 inches) if not more in a few isolated areas.  Inland, the area where cotton is planted has received far less.  Note:  25 mm is equal to 1 inch. 

0106cotton3.jpg

Looking just at Queensland from the National Climate Center within the above mentioned source, rainfall this month as of Jan 5, has seen much less rainfall along the border with NSW and further north where cotton is also planted. 

0106cotton4.jpg

As for the forecast through the next few days, below is shown an update from this morning per one of FCG’s sources.

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