Australian grain production – a snapshot

Monday 22 August, 2016

A golden wheat field near Roma, in the Western Downs, maranoa region.

About 22.3 million hectares are planted annually to commercial grain crops across Australia.

During the past decade, state-of-the-art farming systems, new plant varieties and new techniques have increased the reliability of grain production in Australia’s growing environment.

Climate and weather patterns as well as soil type effectively split Australia into two major grain cropping regions — northern and southern — and two crop growing periods — winter and summer.

Most regions are only able to produce one crop per year however some areas are capable of producing both a summer and winter crop each year due to particular soil types and climate.

Climate changes

Since 2000, there has been a general increase in summer rainfall across Australia, and a corresponding decrease in winter rainfall, leading to shifts in rainfall zones extending for hundreds of kilometres.

Research shows that Australian grain growers are planting their winter crops a month earlier than three decades ago.

Northern cropping region

The northern region takes in central and southern Queensland through to northern New South Wales down as far as the Dubbo region.

Most rainfall in this northern region tends to be over the summer months, allowing for dryland summer crop production.

But with the high moisture-storing capacity of the clay-based soils of this region, supplemented by some winter rainfall, crops that grow during the winter are also successfully produced.

Winter crops in the northern region are planted across a wide time period starting during March in the Queensland Central zone, through to July in the New South Wales Central zone. Consequently, harvest of the northern region’s winter crops can stretch from September through to December.
Similarly, the north’s summer crops are planted from September through to February with harvest spanning the February to May period.

Grain crops grown in the northern region

Winter crops – wheat, barley, oats, chickpeas, triticale, faba beans, lupins, field peas, canola, millet/panicum, safflower and linseed.

Summer crops – sorghum, sunflowers, maize, mungbeans, soybeans, cotton and peanuts.

Southern cropping region

The southern region stretches from central New South Wales (south of Dubbo) through to Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia and the southwest corner of Western Australia. The rainfall pattern ranges from uniform in central New South Wales through to winter-dominant in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.

This is a vast region of the country with a typically Mediterranean climate of dry summers and comparatively reliable winter rainfall lending itself to winter crop production. Summer crop production requires irrigation and the major field crop irrigated in this region is medium grain rice in southern New South Wales.

Planting of the winter crop depends on ‘opening rains’ and usually begins in May and can continue through until late July. The winter crop harvest can begin in late October and continue through until January in the higher rainfall areas.

Grain crops grown in the southern region

Winter crops – wheat, barley, oats, triticale, cereal rye, lupins, field peas, canola, chickpeas, faba beans, vetch, lentils and safflower.
Summer crops – irrigated rice and maize

What is grown where?

what grows whereClick for high resolution

Major Australian grains and their uses

Wheat

Wheat accounts for the majority of Australia’s grain production and is used for the production of breads, noodles and pastas. Australia produces just three per cent of the world’s wheat (about 25 million tonnes per annum) but accounts for 10-15% of the world’s 100 million tonne annual global wheat trade.

There are various different types of wheat produced in Australia, including Australian Prime Hard (APH), Australian Hard (AH), Australian Premium White (APW), Australian Noodle Wheat (ANW), Australian Standard White (ASW), Australian Premium Durum (ADR), and Australian Soft (ASFT).

Barley

More than 8 million tonnes of barley is produced in Australia each year – grown over almost four million hectares across the southern grain belt of Australia. Of that average annual production, about 30-40% is graded as malting barley.

Claiming more than 30% of the world’s malting barley trade, Australia is the world’s largest exporter of malting barley. Recognition of Australian malting barley extends to its ease of processing. The grain has a high germination rate, is easy to malt, and accredited varieties have rapid modification and produce malt with a high level of extract and a range of enzyme levels to suit different style end-products.

Pulses

Pulses are a grain legume produced for human consumption and include lentil, faba bean, mungbean, field pea, chickpea and lupin. Pulses are an essential dietary component for millions of people across the world due to their high protein content.

Pulses are grown in crop rotations, with cereals and oilseeds, given their ability to fix nitrogen into the soil and their contribution to sustainable and profitable farming practices.

Canola

Australian canola is sought after globally for its use as a food-grade oil, for biofuel production and as a stock feed.

Australian canola production is on the rise; averaging about 3.5 million metric tonnes annually, making up 15-20% of the world’s export trade.

Sorghum

Sorghum is a summer crop that is planted in various areas throughout Australia. It has traditionally been used for human consumption and livestock feed. Increasing amounts of sorghum are being used for ethanol production. Australia produces just over 2.5% of global sorghum, but accounts for more than 5% of global exports.

Oats

Australia is a world leader in the production of high quality milling oats for the international market. New oat varieties have been purposely selected for their flavour and aroma when processed as well as for their ease of processing and high milling yield. These varieties provide greater stability for on-farm production and security of supply for international markets.

Total area planted to each crop (approximate percentage)*

Crop area percentages 2016

* Graph source: ABARES Crop Report (2016/17 estimates), Pulse Australia Crop Report

Sources: ABARES, GRDC, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Australian Oilseeds Federation