January 31, 2019 / 1:34 AM / 17 days ago

Australia's west set for hot, dry spell in risk to wheat outlook

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s west coast is facing hot, dry weather over the next three months, the country’s bureau of meteorology said on Thursday, denting the outlook for wheat production in the world’s fourth-largest exporter.

FILE PHOTO: Farmer May McKeown feeds the remaining cattle on her drought-affected property located on the outskirts of the north-western New South Wales town of Walgett in Australia, July 20, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

There is only a 20 percent chance that the state of Western Australia will receive average rainfall between Feb. 1 and April 30, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said in its latest three-month outlook.

It also forecast a 70 percent chance that the majority of Australia will experience above average temperatures over the same period.

Western Australia is the country’s largest wheat growing region, producing up to half of the total harvest, and farmers will begin sowing crops in early April.

“There is plenty of downside risk to production,” said Phin Ziebell, agribusiness analyst, National Australia Bank.

“Western Australia produced a great crop last year because it had good pre-season rains. If the outlook materializes, all soil moisture will be eradicated,” he said.

Australia’s official commodity forecaster will publish its first forecast for 2019/20 wheat production in March.

Wheat output has suffered in recent years from dry weather along the country’s east coast, with 2018/19 production hitting a 10-year low despite a good crop in Western Australia.

While some growers could decide to sow later in the hope of a break in the dry weather, late planting would increase the susceptibility of crops to harsh weather further into the season.

Australia has had a run of hot weather. A record-breaking heat-wave across the southeast earlier this month triggered power outages in some areas and sent power prices soaring, while bushfires have destroyed homes in the southern island state of Tasmania.

Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Richard Pullin

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