The latest official estimate of the 1997 winter wheat crop, in late November, put output at nearly 18 million tonnes compared to last years record 23.7 million tonnes. In addition to a 4 percent reduction in area, crop yields were affected by erratic weather conditions in some parts. However, the current strong El Niño weather phenomenon did not affect production of the 1997 winter grains as much as earlier expected. Aggregate coarse grains output in 1997 (including the minor summer crop of mostly sorghum and maize harvested early in 1997) is now forecast at 8.9 million tonnes, 2.2 million tonnes down from 1996. Prospects are generally favourable for the 1998 summer crop, which is being sown or already developing in some parts, following adequate rains in the major producing areas. Sorghum production is forecast to rise by about 15 percent from 1997 to about 1.6 million tonnes.
The 1997 paddy crop in Australia is estimated at about 1.4 million tonnes, up from 951 000 tonnes produced in 1996. The dramatic rise in production is a result of a 10 percent increase in area to 166 000 hectares and notably improved water supplies in New South Wales, where most of Australias rice is grown. For the 1998 season, area seeded to rice is estimated at 140 000 hectares, down by 16 percent from 1997 due to significantly lower water availability in New South Wales and accordingly, output is expected to fall.