Australia to harvest record amount of wheat in 2020/2021 season - chief forecaster

By Colin Packham

CANBERRA, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Australian farmers will harvest a record amount of wheat during the 2020/21 season, the country's chief commodity forecaster said on Tuesday, after heavy rains in the country's key producing regions boosted yields.

With harvesting nearly complete, output will total a record 33.34 million tonnes in the season ending in July 2021, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) said, surpassing the previous all-time high of 31.8 million tonnes in the 2016/17 season.

ABARES said in December it expected wheat this year to total 31.17 million tonnes.

The bumper crops, which come after the La Nina weather system brought heavy rains across Australia's east coast in recent months, are likely to weigh on benchmark wheat prices . Prices hit their highest in nearly seven years last month.

The record harvest is a far cry from the production seen in recent years. A three-year drought only ended this year, with many of the areas worst hit, including in the eastern state of New South Wales (NSW), now leading the agricultural recovery.

A rebound in the agriculture sector will help the economy to recover from its first recession in 30 years after many businesses were temporarily shut over the past year to slow the spread of COVID-19.

ABARES also increased its forecast for barley production during the 2020/21 season. Production will total 13.1 million tonnes, just shy of the all-time record of 13.4 million tonnes recorded in the 2016/17 season.

Australia is being forced to find alternative markets for its barley exports after China, its largest historic buyer, imposed duties of 80.5% on Australian barley imports last year, effectively halting a billion-dollar trade.

Trade ties between Australia and China have soured after Canberra called for a inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. (Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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