From: Reuters
Published May 18, 2008 11:33 PM

Australia key wheat growing state misses out on rain

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Good weekend rainfall in southern and southeastern Australia has triggered full-scale wheat planting there, but the key eastern growing region mostly missed out, farm analysts and weather officials said on Monday.

Farmers in the eastern state of New South Wales, which normally produces about 30 percent of the country's wheat crop, were anxiously waiting for rain to begin to plant a forecast record wheat crop, after two years of drought-devastated crops.

"New South Wales has been pretty disappointing," said Ron Storey of private group Australian Crop Forecasters.

Australia is the world's second-largest wheat exporter after the United States.

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Around 20 millimeters (0.8 inch) of weekend rain fell over western parts of Victoria state and in southeastern South Australia.

"That would have got the tractors going," said Andrew Watkins, senior climatologist at the National Climate Centre of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Farmers contacted by Reuters in the Mallee wheatgrowing area of Victoria state said on Monday they were starting full-scale planting.

But rain in New South Wales had been generally light at less than 10 millimeters.

Storey said he was maintaining his forecast for a record Australian wheat crop of 27 million tonnes because of the encouraging downpours in South Australia and Victoria.

However, the lack of rain in New South Wales could begin to see Australian grain prices rise, said Garry Booth of commodities broker MF Global.

New South Wales growers still had until the end of May to plant their crops, but after that date planting and growing would become difficult, Storey said.

Some southern parts of the state were already over 50 percent planted after rain three weeks ago, he said.

No rain is forecast in eastern growing areas for the next 7-10 days.

The government's Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics has forecast a near-record Australian wheat crop of 26 million tonnes.

Conditions in Western Australia, which normally produces 40 percent of the national crop, are ripe for growing this season, with planting well underway.

Victoria normally produces around 10 percent of the national crop, South Australia around 16 percent and northern Queensland state around 4 percent.

(Reporting by Michael Byrnes; Editing by James Thornhill)

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