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Commodity Intelligence Report
March 30, 2017

Heat and Dryness Reduce Production Prospects for Australia Sorghum

Australia is the ninth largest producer of sorghum in the world, but the second largest exporter. The main grain crops grown in Australia include wheat, canola, oats, pulses, sorghum and barley. Australian grain production occurs in both the summer and winter seasons. Winter crops include wheat, barley and canola. Summer crops include sorghum, cotton and sunflowers. The following pie chart depicts the contribution to the national production of major crops. The data source is Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES).

Most cropping regions of Australia are only able to produce one crop per year, but areas of Darling Downs (southern Queensland) and the Liverpool Plains (northern New South Wales) are capable of producing a summer and winter crop each year. This is due to their favorable soil and climate. The use of no-till and minimum-till fallow farming in Queensland has expanded the planting window for sorghum by allowing the crop to be sown up to six weeks later than normal after good rain. The use of no-till fallow has generally increased soil moisture in fields and has improved yield prospects.
This season, heat and dryness have accelerated crop maturity and harvest began two weeks early in Queensland. Although the sorghum season started off favorably, the second half of the season has experienced abnormally dry and hot conditions across most of the main producing areas. Crop stress began with periods of dryness in December. Below normal rainfall from December through February resulted in low plant available soil moisture reserves particularly in Queensland. The following graphs of precipitation and temperature depict data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Plant stress was exacerbated by abnormally high temperatures in February, most extreme in New South Wales.
The recent extreme temperatures in Australia’s sorghum belt will have a negative impact on vegetation health and final crop yields.

This MODIS satellite imagery reveals less healthy green vegetation in 2017 compared to 2016 for Australia’s sorghum belt.

Sorghum is a summer crop that is planted in various areas throughout Australia, but production is concentrated mainly along the Queensland and New South Wales border. Queensland produces about two-thirds of Australia’s sorghum, with New South Wales accounting for the remainder.

Sorghum is sown from September through January. Harvest of the early-planted crop begins in February and continues through June. The main sorghum-growing regions were examined using Landsat-8 imagery comparing February 2017 to February 2016 for central Queensland, southern Queensland, and northern New South Wales. Analysis of Landsat imagery for eastern Australia revealed fewer sorghum fields and more irrigated cotton in 2017 than for the same time period in 2016. Area is estimated at 0.44 million hectares, down 0.24 million from last year. The area planted to grain sorghum is estimated lower due to higher planted area for cotton.

Australia (AS) Data Source: USDA PSD Online

Landsat-8 satellite imagery of central Queensland indicates fewer sorghum fields in 2017 compared to 2016. This supports the lower area estimate for 2017.

Landsat-8 satellite imagery of southern Queensland indicates fewer sorghum fields in 2017 compared to 2016. This supports the lower area estimate for 2017.

Landsat-8 satellite imagery of northern New South Wales indicates fewer sorghum fields in 2017 compared to 2016. This supports the lower area estimate for 2017.

In addition to the lower estimated sorghum area, less than favorable vegetation health in the sorghum growing area as measured by satellite-derived MODIS NDVI indicate a lower yield this season. Yield is forecast at 2.73 tons per hectare, 9 percent below last year.

Satellite-derived vegetative indices (NDVI) show crop vigor for sorghum in both Queensland and New South Wales being well below average reflecting inadequate soil moisture and high temperatures.

Sorghum is classified as either grain sorghum or forage sorghum according to the tannin content. Grain sorghum is often used for feed grain for the beef, dairy, pig and poultry industries and is the main summer grain crop in most regions of Queensland. The grain, stalks and leaves are all used for animal feed.
Grain sorghum production, yield and harvested area have fluctuated in response to the highly variable rainfall pattern in eastern Australia
USDA estimates Australia’s sorghum production for 2016/17 at 1.2 million tons, down 0.8 million from last year.

Source: USDA PSD Online


Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on IPAD's Agricultural Production page or at PSD Online.

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For more information contact Jim Crutchfield | | (202) 690-0135
USDA-FAS, Office of Global Analysis

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