SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — Australia on June 18 lowered its wheat export forecast for 2019-20 by nearly 18% as drought continues to plague the world’s fourth largest wheat exporter.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) forecast wheat exports of 11.7 million tonnes in the crop year that begins in July, down from its March estimate of 14.2 million tonnes.

Wheat is Australia’s most valuable agricultural export, worth an estimated $34.3 billion per year.

The wheat situation is so dire that wheat is being imported into the country for the first time in more than a decade to meet the needs of end users.

The wheat imports are likely to continue in the coming months, according to ABARES.

ABARES in a March 4 report said wheat production in Australia during the drought-plagued 2018-19 season totaled 17.3 million tonnes, which was the smallest crop in a decade for the world’s fourth largest wheat exporter.

The decline in production in 2018-19 was due to a drought that affected New South Wales and Queensland, two of the biggest grain-producing states in Australia.

Australia’s 10-year average for wheat production is 24.4 million tonnes, ABARES noted.

ABARES forecasts Australian wheat production to increase 22% over the drought affected 2018–19 crop.

Although planting conditions have been below average in parts of New South Wales, southern Queensland and Western Australia, production is expected to increase to around 21 million tonnes.