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The area of land sown to crops has more than doubled in the past 40 years, reflecting improved plant genetics, greater variety in plant species, increased mechanisation and fertiliser use, as well as better control of pests and diseases in Australia. Table 14.11 shows the area of crops in the states and territories of Australia since 1880-81, and table 14.12 is a summary of the area, production and gross value of the principal crops in the most recent years.
In Australia, cereals are divided into autumn-winter-spring growing (winter cereals) and spring-summer-autumn growing (summer cereals). In temperate regions winter cereals such as wheat, oats, barley and rye are often grown in rotation with pastures, such as subterranean clover, medics or lucerne, and with other winter crops such as canola, field peas and lupins. Rice, maize and sorghum are summer cereals, often being grown in rotation with winter cereals in some areas.
Wheat is Australia's largest crop. It is produced in all states but primarily on the mainland in a narrow crescent known as the wheat belt. Inland of the Great Dividing Range, the wheat belt stretches in a curve from central Queensland through New South Wales, Victoria and southern South Australia. In Western Australia, the wheat belt continues around the south-west of the state and some way north, along the western side of the continent (map 14.13).
Most of Australia's wheat is exported for human consumption. A small proportion of production is used domestically for human consumption, with lower quality grain being used for domestic stock feed.
New varieties of wheat have enabled it to be grown in more marginal areas in recent years. In particular the development of dual purpose winter wheat varieties which, like oats, allow grazing of the plant up to a few months prior to harvest, have become very popular in some areas.
Severe drought conditions across Australia more than halved wheat production to 10.1 million tonnes in 2002-03 (table 14.14). The main falls occurred in New South Wales where production fell by 69% to 2.5 million tonnes, and Western Australia, where production fell by 48% to 4.0 million tonnes. Graph 14.15 shows variability in wheat yields is a part of life for wheat growers, with dry periods and, less commonly, floods resulting in significant falls in production approximately every ten years over the past 100 years.
14.13 WHEAT FOR GRAIN, Production - 2000-01(a)
(a) This map has been generated using Agricultural Census data at the Statistical Local Area level for 2000-01.
Source: AgStats on GSP (7117.0.30.001) CD-ROM product 1996-97 to 2000-01.
Oats are traditionally grown in moist, temperate regions. However, in recent years improved varieties and management practices have enabled oats to be grown over a wider range of soil and climatic conditions. Oats have a high fodder feed value and, with the exception of recently developed dual purpose varieties of wheat, produce a greater bulk of growth than other winter cereals. They need less cultivation, and respond well to superphosphates and nitrogen. Oats have two main uses - as a grain crop, and as a fodder crop. Fodder crops can either be grazed in the initial stages of growth and then locked up for a period prior to harvesting for grain, or else mown and baled for hay or cut for chaff.
The majority of Australian oats harvested for grain is used domestically for stock feed purposes. A small proportion of high quality grain is used for human consumption. A small proportion of grain production is exported for human consumption.
After three years of low plantings, the total area of oats planted in 2002-03 increased by 16% to 911,000 ha (table 14.16) as growers anticipated increased demand and prices for oat grain, especially for stockfeed. Due to the dry conditions production fell by 33% to 957,000 tonnes, the lowest level recorded since 1995. Production in Western Australia was less affected than other states, with a 14% drop in production. The Western Australian crop of 477,000 tonnes represented just under 50% of the national harvest.
This cereal contains two main groups of varieties, 2-row and 6-row (the number of rows referring to the number of rows of seed on each stalk). The former is generally, but not exclusively, preferred for malting purposes. Barley is grown principally as a grain crop, although in some areas it is used as a fodder crop for grazing, with grain being subsequently harvested if conditions are suitable. It is often grown as a rotation crop with wheat, oats and pasture. As barley has a short growing period, it may provide quick grazing or timely fodder supplies when other sources are not available. Barley grain may be crushed to meal for stock feed or sold for malting.
The total area of barley planted in 2002-03 increased by 4% to 3,864,000 ha (table 14.17). Despite the increase in plantings, production more than halved to 3,865,000 tonnes due to the extremely dry conditions in the main growing states.
The sorghums are summer growing crops which are used in a number of ways: grain sorghum for grain; sweet or fodder sorghum, Sudan grass and Columbus grass for silage, green feed and grazing; and broom millet for brooms and brushware. However, the grain is used primarily as stockfeed and is an important source for supplementing other coarse grains for this purpose.
Grain sorghum is the third biggest cereal crop (in terms of production) despite it only being grown in significant quantities in Queensland and New South Wales. Queensland produced 63% of the total harvest of 1,465,000 tonnes in 2002-03 (table 14.18).
Maize is a summer cereal requiring specific soil and climatic conditions. The majority of maize used for grain is grown in the south-east and Atherton Tablelands regions of Queensland, and the north coast, northern slopes and tablelands, and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area regions in New South Wales. Small amounts are grown for green feed and silage in association with the dairy industry.
In 2002-03 maize grain production decreased by 32% to 310,000 tonnes (table 14.19).
Almost all of Australia's rice is grown in New South Wales, with production centred in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Rice production is dependent on supplies of irrigation water and, therefore, is significantly affected by reductions in irrigation water allocations available to farmers.
Due to the drought, rice production fell in 2002-03 by 63% to 438,000 tonnes (table 14.20).
Vegetables and fruit
Australia produces an extremely wide variety of vegetables, partly as a result of the varied tastes of the cosmopolitan population. Many vegetables, such as spring onions, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes are grown close to major capital cities, taking advantage of proximity to markets and low transport costs. However, the majority of vegetables are produced in the major irrigation areas of each state and territory, where access to land and water are the key drivers of investment.
In 2002-03 the area sown to vegetables was 121,200 ha, a decrease of 8% from the previous year. Potatoes were by far the largest vegetable crop in terms of area and production, accounting for 30% of the total area of vegetables planted in 2002-03 (tables 14.21 and 14.22). Tasmania and South Australia together produced just over 50% of the national potato crop in 2002-03. Tasmania accounted for almost all green pea production, producing 97% of the national crop, or 26,489 tonnes in 2002-03.
Fruit (excluding grapes)
A wide variety of fruit is grown in Australia, ranging from pineapples, mangoes and pawpaws in the tropics to pome, stone and berry fruits in temperate regions. Table 14.23 shows the number of trees for the main types of orchard fruit, and the area under cultivation for bananas and pineapples.
The most significant crops in terms of gross value of production are bananas, oranges and apples. Production of bananas, which occurs mainly in coastal Queensland, fell 15% in 2002-03 to 264,800 tonnes. In 2002-03 the gross value of the apple crop increased 9% to $380.6m (table 14.24).
Grapes are a temperate crop requiring predominantly winter rainfall and warm to hot summer conditions for ripening. Almost all grape production in Australia depends on irrigation water as a supplement to rainfall. An absence of late-spring frosts is essential if the loss of the developing fruit is to be prevented. Grapes are grown for winemaking, drying, and to a lesser extent, for table use. Some of the better known grape producing areas are the Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Riverland, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra in South Australia; Sunraysia and the Yarra Valley in Victoria; the Hunter and Riverina in New South Wales; the Swan Valley and Margaret River in Western Australia; and the Tamar Valley and Coal River Valley in Tasmania.
The gross value of grape production for 2002-03 decreased by 13% from the previous year, to $1,370.8m. Tables 14.25 and 14.26 show the area of vines and the quantity of grapes produced.
More information on grape growing and wine production is provided in Australian wine and grape industries - a decade of growth.
Selected other crops
The oilseeds industry is a relatively young industry by Australian agricultural standards. The specialist oilseed crops grown include sunflower, soybeans, canola and safflower. Sunflower and soybeans are summer crops while the others are winter crops. In Australia, oilseeds are crushed for their oil, which is used for edible and industrial purposes, and for protein meals for livestock feeds.
The 1990s saw the emergence of canola as the main oilseed crop, with production increasing from around 70,000 tonnes in 1990-91 to a high of 2.5 million tonnes in 1999-2000. Canola production accounted for over 95% of the total Australian oilseed crop of 907,000 tonnes in 2002-03 (table 14.27). Before the emergence of canola, the main specialist oilseed crop was sunflower seed. Peanuts and cotton are also major sources of oil as a by-product to their main outputs, which are food and fibre respectively.
Cotton is grown mainly in inland areas of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, primarily for its fibre (lint), and relies heavily on irrigation water to produce profitable yields. When the cotton is mature, seed cotton is taken to a gin where it is separated (ginned) into cotton lint and cotton seed. The lint is used for yarn while the cotton seed is further processed at an oil mill, where the short fibres (linters) remaining on the cotton seed after ginning are removed. These fibres are too short to make into cloth, but are used for wadding, upholstery and paper. The seeds are then separated into kernels and hulls. The hulls are used for stock feed and as fertiliser, while the kernels are crushed to extract oil. The oilcake residue (crushed kernels) is ground into meal, which is a protein roughage, and is used as a stock feed.
The estimated gross value of cotton lint and cotton seed in 2002-03 was $853m, a 36% decrease from the previous year (table 14.28).
Sugar cane is grown commercially in Australia along the east coast over a distance of some 2,100 kilometres in a number of areas from Maclean in northern New South Wales to Mossman in Queensland. More recently, it has also been grown in Western Australia.
About 90% of production occurs in Queensland (table 14.29), with 75% of the crop grown north of the Tropic of Capricorn in areas where rainfall is reliable and the warm, moist and sunny conditions are ideal for growing sugar cane.
Crops and pastures cut for hay or silage
To counter Australia's seasonal conditions and unreliable rainfall, many farmers use hay and silage as methods of fodder conservation to supplement pasture and other natural sources of stockfeed.
Considerable areas are devoted to fodder crops and sown pastures, which are either used for grazing (as green feed) or harvested and conserved as hay or silage (table 14.30).