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Australia Grain-Wheat, rice plantings spurred by high prices
(Reuters) - Dry eastern weather and high grains prices are sparking groundbreaking moves by Australian farmers to boost tonnages of wheat and rice in this season's crops.

There is an unprecedented rush by growers to extend traditional dryland wheat areas with much-increased plantings of wheat in irrigated cottonfields in northern New South Wales, which could yield an extra 100,000 tonnes of wheat.

At the same time, farmers in northeast coastal areas are extending ricegrowing areas 1,000 kilometres northwards by switching to rice from sugarcane to take advantage of flooding rains earlier this year, and to escape dry weather in the south.

The moves are designed to increase production by as much as possible, as world prices wheat prices leapt by over 160 percent since last May before coming back by 40 percent, farm leaders said.

The extra wheat for the 2008/09 harvest would be on top of existing forecast production of between 26 and 27 million tonnes.

For rice, extra output would add to crop tonnages after minimal water allocations cut Australian exports this year to almost nothing.

"Almost any rice that can be produced is a good thing," Les Gordon, president of the Australian Ricegrowers Association, said on Friday.

U.S. rice futures are surging in a renewed global panic over shortages, with cyclone damage and flooding in Myanmar's rice growing areas adding to supply fears.

Australia's worst drought in 100 years reduced the last rice crop to a negligible 18,000 tonnes, meaning exports this year will be minimal.

It normally exports around 600,000 tonnes of medium-grain rice a year, putting it on a par with Myanmar as an exporter.

Gordon said on Friday that continued dry weather in Australia's main southern rice growing areas were causing new jitters about planting the next crop.

"It's not too late yet. But we're into May now. Historically if you have a dry May, statistically the season doesn't tend to change," he said.

Planting can take place up until September. "The door's not shut," he said.

But dams need to fill and irrigation allocations made by October for there to be a big increase in the next rice crop.


Interest in growing irrigated wheat in the northwestern New South Wales was "absolutely enormous", John Lacy, an irrigated farming systems specialist with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, told the Land newspaper this week.

Stuart Gall, a dryland farmer and irrigator from Moree in the northeast of the state, told Reuters that irrigated wheat was being planted as far west as Bourke, 650 kms northwest of Sydney.

This was at least double normal plantings of irrigated wheat, and could increase the harvest by up to 100,000 tonnes, he said.

Australia's broadacre wheat crop mainly relies on rain.

This year good rain has fallen in Western Australia, to allow planting to get underway, but falls have been more scattered in the east as farmers wait for rain to trigger the beginning of planting this season.

Farmers are geared up to plant a bumper crop this year after drought halved the size of the past two years crops, to 10 million and 13 million tonnes respectively. (Reporting by Michael Byrnes; Editing by Michael Urquhart)
MGR Archive 11.5.2008
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