Australia's east coast faces sweltering 3 months in blow to wheat output

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Australia's east coast will endure hot, dry weather over the next three months, the country's weather bureau said on Thursday, threatening wheat production in the world's fourth-largest exporter.

Australia's east coast has only a 20 percent chance of receiving average rainfall between March 1 and May 31, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

The bureau also forecast an 80 percent chance that nearly all of Australia will experience above average temperatures over the same period.

The forecast darkens the outlook for Australia's wheat production, with farmers preparing to sow crops in less than two months.

Farmers will have to abandon their planting intentions or sow into dry soils in the hope of a break in the weather, analysts said.

"Farmers could get away with no rain in March but they will desperately need a break in April. There is no moisture in the soil, it could get very bad," said Phin Ziebell, agribusiness economist, National Australia Bank.

Australia has been grappling with successive years of drought that have wilted crops and left some farmers struggling to stay in business.

Australia's wheat production fell to an 11-year low during the 2018/19 season, according to the country's chief commodity forecaster.

Wheat is the country's largest rural export, worth an estimated A$5.5 billion ($3.9 billion) last year.

Australia's chief commodity forecaster will issue its first production forecast for the upcoming season in March. ($1 = 1.4000 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Richard Pullin)

2019-02-28 02:23:46

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