WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Australian grain producers experienced a difficult 2017-18 due to sustained dry periods, frost and flooding, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expects more moderate and average seasonal conditions to prevail in 2018-19.

With a more favorable seasonal outlook, the USDA in an April 12 Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report forecast increases in production of wheat, barley, and sorghum while the rice harvest is expected to remain the same as last year’s level. The growing livestock sector demand and higher feed grain prices in eastern Australia could constrain exports.

“The Australian domestic feed market normally accounts for around 10% of wheat supply; however, demand has expanded in recent years, partly because of significant variations in seasonal conditions and regional shortages of pasture and grains,” the USDA said.

In recent years, different cropping regions in Australia have been exposed to significant variations in climatic conditions.

In 2017, for instance, Australia endured its third hottest year on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).

In the second half of 2017, the USDA noted many cropping regions in eastern Australia received below average rainfall and above average temperatures, which severely affected the growing season.

“For 2018-19, the outlook appears comparatively favorable and timely rains in early 2018 have improved soil moisture in a number of cropping regions before the start of the winter planting window,” the USDA said. “The BOM forecasts average rainfall and temperatures for the three months to June 2018, but a dry April means that continued rainfall is still necessary for successful crop planting and development.”

Australian wheat production is forecast at 24 million tonnes for 2018-19, assuming average seasonal conditions over the year.

“Barley production is forecast at 9.5 million tonnes due to an expansion in the harvested area and higher returns to growers,” the USDA said.

The USDA expects sorghum production to increase to 1.6 million tonnes in 2018-19 as a result of increased harvested area and higher grain prices.

Rice production also is expected to be steady at 0.8 million tonnes in 2018-19 despite the higher cost of irrigation water and competition for water supplies from other crops like cotton, according to the USDA.