By Boyd Champness

WHEAT production in Australia has soared to its highest level ever.

The nations crop is 24.1 million tonnes this year, according to Australias top commodities forecaster.

Canola producers are also rubbng their hands with glee, with a record crop of 2.4 million tonnes, following a 34% increase in plantings.

In its latest crop report, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) has estimated the 1999-2000 wheat harvest at 24.1 million tonnes, about 400,000 tonnes above the previous record set in 1996-97.

The increase in production is due mainly to record crops in Western Australia and New South Wales.

However, bid declines are in store for barley and a range of summer crops after sharp cutbacks in areas planted.

ABARE has forecast a 25% slump in barley production – to about 4.3 million tonnes.

The relatively poor price outlook for summer crops such as cotton, sorghum, sunflowers and soy beans has prompted many farmers to scale back their plantings this year.

Total summer crop production is forecast to fall by 17% to 5 million tonnes.

But ABARE has predicted that the record wheat and canola crops should offset a slump in barley production to bump the nations total winter crop to 35.2 million tonnes, a 3% increase on the previous years harvest, and the second highest on record.

The largest winter crop of 36 million tonnes was harvested in 1996-97.

“Despite low prices due to the significant carry over stocks in the United States and European Union, the 1999-2000 winter crop will still pump over A$6 billion (2.36bn) into the Australian economy, and in particular rural and regional Australia,” Grains Council Australia president John Lush told the Stock and Land.

He attributed part of the increase in production to the grains industrys investment in research and development.

According to the newspaper, the national wheat yield of 2.01t/ha was above initial ABARE expectations on 1.9t/ha and the five-year average of 1.76t/ha. The area planted also increased.