CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA — Inadequate rainfall pulls at Australia’s projected production of wheat, barley and sorghum. As a result, wheat and barley crop forecasts have fallen to only slightly above last year’s drought-impacted production levels, with the sorghum production forecast falling below last year, according to an Oct. 2 Global Agricultural Information Network report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA projects 2019-20 wheat production at 18 million tonnes, up only 700,000 tonnes compared to the drought impacted 201819 crop. If realized it would be more than 25% below the 10-year production average.

The report attributes this low forecast to declining winter grain crop prospects in much of Western and parts of Southern Australia.

“Although crop conditions in parts of these regions were relatively positive over the winter period, crops were in a precarious situation because of very low soil moisture levels and farmers were relying on strong spring rains to help ensure good yields,” the USDA said. “September rains, however, were disappointing and far below average in much of this area. Significant frost events occurred in Western Australia, which could also negatively impact yields. As a result, it is looking very doubtful that there will be a repeat of last year’s bumper crop in Western Australia, which helped offset the poor crop in Eastern Australia.”

Deteriorating crop conditions are expected to impact wheat exports, which are forecast to be 9.5 million tonnes for the 2019-20 year, only 500,000 tonnes higher than the previous year.

The dry September weather also negatively affected Australia’s barley production. The USDA revised its estimate output to 8.5 million tonnes of barley, only slightly up from last year’s crop. The USDA also noted some farmers are cutting their barley fields for hay because of higher fodder prices and expected low barley yields.

Barley consumption also is revised down because of lower anticipated feed use.

“The combination of drought and very high lamb and mutton export demand has boosted slaughtering in 2018 and 2019, and sheep flock numbers have fallen to a 100-year low,” the report said.

The USDA estimates Australia’s sorghum production for 2019-20 at 1 million tonnes, about 300,000 tonnes lower than the previous year.

“The key sorghum growing area is in northern New South Wales and Queensland,” the USDA said. “Other than in central Queensland, where there has been positive rains and soil moisture, much of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland continues to be in a severe multi-year drought. The lack of soil moisture and poor rain outlook in these areas is expected to reduce area that planned to be sown to sorghum.”

The 2019-20 sorghum consumption has been revised down due to an expected smaller crop but the 2018-19 consumption was raised as less sorghum is being exported and more is being utilized for cattle feed.