The elements are lining up in favor of another sizeable wheat crop in Australia for 2021. Last year saw a record-large harvest of well over 30 million metric tons. La Nina was a big factor in that large crop, as La Nina cooling of the Pacific Ocean equatorial waters leads to atmospheric trends bringing more moisture into Australia. (Here in the United States, of course, La Nina led to a late-summer drought and reduced crop yields along with enhancing the hurricane season. It's not far-fetched to place some of the cause of the extremely damaging Midwest derecho storm in the La Nina corner either.)
The most recent commentary on Pacific Ocean conditions from the Australia Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) points to a benign pattern in the Pacific:
"The El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) remains neutral. Climate model outlooks indicate this neutral phase will last at least until September. With little sign of El Nino or La Nina developing, the Bureau's ENSO Outlook status is INACTIVE."
The Pacific influence -- or lack of it -- relates primarily to the eastern Australia wheat areas of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
Australia is very large, however. And on the western end of the continent, the Indian Ocean has a big say in crop moisture for Western Australia wheat. The Indian Ocean has its own features of note -- the sea surface temperatures along with a barometric pressure indicator called the Indian Ocean Diode (IOD). The Bureau of Meteorology describes the current state of affairs with these two features in a mixed assessment.
"The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is currently neutral. Outlooks indicate the IOD is most likely to remain neutral for the remainder of autumn and early winter, although it briefly touches on positive thresholds near the end of autumn. However, it should be noted that model accuracy is low at this time of the year, so the current outlooks should be viewed with caution. While the IOD is most likely to remain neutral, above-average Indian Ocean sea surface temperature patterns outside of the IOD region may be providing more conducive conditions for rainfall across some parts of Australia."
As a result, the above-average Indian Ocean temperatures lead to a forecast for above-normal precipitation in Western Australia. Back to the east, forecasts indicate near-normal amounts or equal chances of above-normal, normal or below-normal amounts in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Finally, the generally featureless pattern leads to a forecast for below-normal precipitation through July in South Australia. South Australia may be primarily affected by the prevailing climate change trend of steadily warmer conditions and reduced precipitation during this point in the calendar.
USDA's Foreign Ag Service (FAS) pegs Australia's 2021-22 wheat crop at 27 million metric tons, down from the record 33 mmt in 2020-21. That is still a big crop, though and indicates a notable Australia contribution to world wheat supplies starting in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Bryce Anderson can be reached at email@example.com
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