Fruit and nuts
The total gross value of Queensland’s fruit and nut production in 2008–09 is forecast at
$1.065 billion, 1% lower than 2007–08 and 2% higher than 2006–07.
The gross value of banana production is
forecast at $400 million in 2008–09, 15%
lower than DPI&F’s revised estimate for
2007–08 but the same as 2006–07.
DPI&F have revised the estimate for
2007–08 to $470 million, down from the
previous estimate of $500 million. Based
on data from the ABS, we have reduced
our estimate of the proportion of the crop
produced outside the main growing area
in Far North Queensland, and in addition
prices have been lower than anticipated in
the last few months.
The forecast for 2008–09 is sharply
down on 2007–08 because of lower
prices and lower production as high costs
lead to reduced application of fertiliser.
Production has now returned to normal
after fluctuations following replanting in
the wake of cyclone Larry in March 2006.
Newly replanted areas tended to bear
synchronously at first and it takes some
time for production to smooth out. As a
consequence consumers should see more
consistent prices from now on.
The gross value of strawberry production is
forecast at $150 million in 2008–09, 15%
higher than 2007–08 and 25% higher than
2006–07. The increase is mainly due to
Most strawberry production occurs in the
Caboolture shire, just north of Brisbane,
and along the Caloundra rail corridor.
The gross value of mandarin production in
2008–09 is forecast at $75 million, 12%
lower than DPI&F’s revised forecast for
2007–08 and 17% lower than 2006–07.
Half of Queensland’s mandarin production
occurs in the Gayndah shire. A further third
of production occurs in Mundubbera (not
shown on map).
The estimate for 2007–08 has been revised
down by $10 million to $85 million. The
high value of the Australian dollar is placing
pressure on exports, and prices have been
lower than originally expected. In addition,
rain brought the harvest of imperial
mandarins to an early end, reducing
volumes. The smaller mid-season crop has
been further affected by imperial mandarins
from southern states, and prices have been
very low. Industry contacts report that some
growers left mid-season fruit unpicked.
Because of the high dollar, prices for
murcotts are also likely to be down on 2007
as more fruit finds its way to the domestic
market, and export prices fall in Australian
The gross value of mango production is
forecast at $60 million in 2008–09, 33%
higher than 2007–08 and 25% lower than
The biennial bearing pattern of mangoes is
expected to result in higher production than
last year, with relatively modest prices as a
result of increased supplies. Early reports
suggest that flowering is patchy and late,
and recent rain may reduce pollination.
More than 40% of Queensland’s mango
production is in the Mareeba shire in
Far North Queensland. A further 39%
of production occurs in neighbouring
Burdekin, Bowen and Townsville shires.
The gross value of avocado production is
forecast at $70 million in 2008–09, the
same as DPI&F’s revised estimate for
2007–08 and 7% lower than 2006–07.
The forecast for 2007–08 has been revised
down by $10 million to $70 million due
lower production that was only partly offset
by higher prices.
In 2008–09, production is expected to rise
and prices fall accordingly.
37% of Queensland’s avocados are
produced in the neighbouring shires of
Isis and Burnett, with 29% of production
occurring in the Atherton and Mareeba
shires in Far North Queensland. Just over
10% is grown in Crow’s Nest shire on the
The gross value of pineapple production is
forecast at $55 million in 2008–09, the
same as DPI&F’s revised forecast for
2007–08 and 15% lower than 2006–07.
Larger volumes of fresh fruit are expected
to be offset by lower prices and the amount
of fruit processed for juice will be very low,
as will the price. The estimate for 2007–08
has been revised down from $70 million to
$55 million due to a correction in the price
of smooth cayenne pineapples in the fresh
More than a third of pineapple production
occurs in the Caboolture shire, just north of
Brisbane, with a further 20% of production
in the Caloundra shire and 10% north of
Yeppoon in the Livingstone shire on the
Central Queensland coast.
The gross value of apple production is
forecast at $50 million in 2008–09, the
same as 2007–08 and 52% higher than
Higher than average production is expected
to be offset by lower prices, though it is too
early to make an accurate prediction.
More than 95% of Queensland’s apples are
grown in Stanthorpe.
The gross value of macadamia nut
production is forecast at $30 million in
2008–09, 20% higher than 2007–08 and
25% lower than 2006–07.
The forecast for 2008–09 is higher than
2007–08 because of small increases in
production and price.
40% of macadamia production occurs in
the Burnett shire, north of Bundaberg and a
significant amount is grown around Gympie
and just north of Gympie in Tiaro shire.
The gross value of table grape production is
forecast at $40 million in 2008–09, the
same as 2007–08.
Table grapes were added to Prospects last
September, the industry having grown
rapidly in recent years. The main varieties
are Menindee seedless, flame seedless and
red globe. Queensland table grapes are
early season, with 90% harvested between
October and December.
The major production areas are in the
Balonne shire where more than 40% of
Queensland’s table grapes are grown, and
the Emerald shire, where a third (33%) of
It’s confirmed—we want our apples Aussie grown, crispy and fresh
Queensland food researchers have discovered consumers look for Australian grown, crispy
and crunchy apples that haven’t spent too long in the fridge.
The results come from a Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries
(DPI&F) research project focused on finding out why consumers choose certain produce over
The research will help producers create foods which they know consumers want to eat and
by doing so steer us towards healthier eating options.
DPI&F research scientist Stephanie Kirchhoff said the testing demonstrated conclusive
‘Initial research carried out on apples involved using various survey and sensory tests
identifying seven positive factors influencing consumer decisions,’ Ms Kirchhoff said.
‘Consumers definitely want apples which are consistently juicy and crunchy, have additional
health attributes than other varieties and are Australian produced.’
By knowing what consumers want, growers and food scientists are able to focus future
breeds to include more of those qualities. And for retailers it means knowing what attributes
of their stock they should be marketing to consumers in a bid to encourage them to buy from
Ms Kirchhoff said the results also identified attributes growers and business should watch
‘It’s good to be able to know what to do, but it’s also great to know what not to do and
consumers are clear on this front,’ she said.
‘They don’t want fruit that’s floury, have pesticides or that’s been sitting in cold storage
for a year. Research also showed growers and business need to get it right the first time
because consumers were adamant that they won’t go back for a second try if they weren’t
happy the first time around.’
Consumer research is underway on various other foods with results likely to provide new
avenues of produce and marketing for growers and businesses and help to keep consumers
making healthier eating choices.
Manipulating the avocado’s own disease defences
Like humans, avocados have natural ways of defending themselves against disease.
Scientists from the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F) are researching
ways to identify and use these immune system mechanisms to overcome disease in
commercial crops, thereby increasing the shelf life of avocados and reducing waste.
Anthracnose is the most serious post-harvest disease affecting avocados and costs the
industry about $20 million a year. The disease produces lesions on the skin and flesh
of ripening avocados, resulting in spoiled produce that can’t be used. Unfortunately for
consumers, the disease only becomes apparent as the avocado ripens—infected, but
unripe, fruit cannot usually be identified when being packed but consumers are faced with a
rotten avocado when they attempt to use it some time later.
A DPI&F long-term research project team of plant pathologists working on the problem is led
by Dr Peter Hofman. Funded by Horticulture Australia Limited and the Queensland–Israel
Collaborative Agriculture Research Program (QICARP), the team aims to better understand
and delay the factors that cause avocados to deteriorate. They believe this can be done by
manipulating the avocado’s own defences to improve disease resistance—results already
show that improvements can be achieved by careful rootstock selection, nutritional
management and defence activator application.
Natural antifungal compounds called ‘dienes’ contribute to the shelf life of avocados.
However, dienes break down naturally during the ripening process and this makes the fruit
susceptible to diseases, especially post-harvest ones like anthracnose.
While the avocado is ready to be eaten as soon as it ripens, some time may pass before it is
actually consumed. The effects of the disease are further exacerbated during this delay and
the result is unusable fruit—wastage that the scientists are hoping to overcome with their
long-term disease control strategies.
A major discovery from the work so far is that rootstocks influence diene levels as well as
mineral nutrient concentrations. By using rootstocks that produce higher levels of dienes
and calcium in the developing fruit, the disease susceptibility of avocados can be reduced,
the shelf life extended and overall quality of the flesh improved.
In another QICARP-funded project that started in early 2008, researchers are looking at
more ways to increase the natural disease resistance of avocados using both pre- and post-
harvest treatments. The levels of diene and other biochemical defences will be monitored in
order to identify the most effective treatments, or combinations of treatments.
In 2008–09, Queensland’s gross value of vegetable production is forecast at $990 million,
27% higher than 2007–08 and 23% higher than 2006–07.
Queensland’s gross value of potato
production is forecast at $55 million, 22%
higher than 2007–08 and about the same
Tough growing conditions in southern
states have seen an increase the price
paid for fresh market potatoes. Production
volumes are likely to increase this season
due to a combination of increased plantings
and growers moving out of processing
contracts. On balance we expect to see an
increase industry value in response to these
The main potato growing areas are
Atherton and Herberton shires in Far North
Queensland, the Burnett shire, north of
Bundaberg and Gatton, west of Brisbane.
Tomato GVP for 2008–09 is forecast at $200
million, 2% lower than 2007–08 and 11%
higher than 2006–07.
Production is expected to increase through
the first half of the season as growers
enter the market and existing growers
seek to increase market share in response
to favourable market conditions. Into
the second half of the season, value of
production is tipped to decline as market
conditions stabilise in response to softening
Half of Queensland’s tomato production
occurs in the Bowen shire, with some
production in the Isis shire around Childers.
The gross value of capsicum production in
Queensland is forecast at $100 million, the
same as both 2007–08 and 2006–07.
Reasonable water availability is likely to
result in an increased volume of production;
however, declining prices will offset these
gains leaving the value of production
As with tomatoes, the main areas for
capsicum production are the Bowen and Isis
The gross value of sweetpotatoes is
forecast at $45 million, which is 18% lower
than 2007–08 and the same as 2006–07.
Queensland produces 85% of Australia’s
sweetpotatoes, with Bundaberg being the
main growing area. Some sweetpotatoes
are also grown in Cudgen in northern
New South Wales. All production is sold
Sweetpotato production and consumption
has been increasing over the past few
years, and after years of steady growth
consumption may have reached its peak in
The gross value of lettuce production in
Queensland in 2008–09 is forecast at
$45 million, 12% higher than 2007–08 and
the same as 2006–07.
Rainfall throughout key production areas is
likely to see production volumes increase
from last season, however, prices are
expected to remain depressed. On balance
the value of production is expected to
Gatton, Esk and Cambooya shires are
Queensland’s main areas of lettuce
Queensland’s gross value of mushroom
production is forecast at $60 million, 9%
higher than 2007–08 and 20% higher than
Despite the recent difficulties in obtaining
good quality material for compost, overall
value of production has followed a steady
increase in demand, matched with rising
The main two production areas for
mushrooms are the Beaudesert and
Stanthorpe shires, south-west of Brisbane,
where almost 60% of production occurs.
Neighbouring shires, Isis (around Childers)
and Burnett (north of Bundaberg), account
for 12% of production, while 9% of
production occurs in the Maroochy shire
Watermelon production in Queensland in
2008–09 is forecast at $25 million, which is
29% lower than 2007–08 and 38% lower
A third (33%) of Queensland’s watermelon
production occurs in the adjoining shires of
Bowen and Burdekin in Central Queensland.
Smaller pockets of production are in the
Chinchilla and Rosalie shires on the Darling
Downs, as well as the Banana shire and
One potato, two potato, sweetpotato
The secret to the incredible growth of Bundaberg’s sweetpotato industry
Queensland is the main producer of sweetpotatoes in Australia. Queensland growers
produce approximately 85% of Australia’s crop (worth around $55 million) and supply all the
major Australian fresh markets as well as the processing sector.
A Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries (DPI&F) team, led by senior horticulturalist
Eric Coleman, has spent five years researching and pioneering new crop management
strategies that have ultimately improved the consumer appeal of sweetpotato. The
individual projects have been funded by the Queensland Government, Horticulture Australia
Limited, Growcom and the vegetable industry.
The team’s success in finding a way to manage the virus and disease problems that were
affecting crops has seen the sweetpotato output from the Bundaberg region more than
double—up from 418 000 boxes in 2001 to 943 000 boxes in 2005. Healthier crops have
also allowed growers to substantially reduce their use of nitrogen (by 42%) and potassium
Sweetpotatoes are highly susceptible to viruses and virus-like diseases that reduce crop
vigour and marketable yield. The infections are introduced into a crop by sowing infected
plantlets and are then spread through the crop by aphids.
The researchers found a way to overcome the disease cycle by establishing a reliable source
of ‘clean’ sweetpotato plants for growers. A collection of pathogen-tested sweetpotato germ
plasm, from which fresh plantlets can be propagated, has been established. The plantlets
are grown to maturity by the research team, and the sweetpotatoes grown from those
mature plants are ultimately sold to growers who are then able to grow their own pathogen-
free plantlets. Modified management practices using the improved plant stock have also
substantially increased yields of smooth-skin easy-to-peel sweetpotatoes.
‘Our research shows that using pathogen-tested planting material is the single most
important management technique growers can use to improve sweetpotato root quality’,
Mr Coleman said.
The total value of Queensland’s lifestyle horticulture industry in 2008–09 is forecast at
$1.4 billion, 8% higher than DPI&F’s revised forecast of $1.3 billion for 2007–08.
The total production value of nurseries, turf, cut flowers and foliage is forecast at $657 million,
9% higher than 2007–08.
• The gross value of nursery production is forecast at $451 million, 10% higher than
• The gross value of turf production is forecast at $81 million, 16% higher than 2007–08.
• The gross value of cut flower production is forecast at $125 million, the same as
On the service side, total value is forecast at $780 million, 11% higher than 2007–08.
The September 2007 edition of Prospects forecast a slight fall in GVP generated by the
lifestyle horticulture industry in 2007–08 when compared to 2006–07. However, late spring
and early summer rainfall in South East Queensland generated improved market conditions
and increased optimism among businesses in the lifestyle horticulture industry throughout
the second half of 2007–08. By March 2008, DPI&F reported that the lifestyle horticulture
industry was forecast to increase its GVP by an estimated 7% in 2007–08 when compared
to the final forecast for 2006–07.
The increased optimism among businesses in the lifestyle horticulture industry about their
future trading conditions is expected to continue in 2008–09. DPI&F forecasts an overall
increase of 8% in lifestyle horticulture GVP in 2008–09 with total lifestyle horticulture GVP
(production and services sectors) expected to reach $1.4 billion. However, despite the recent
growth, lifestyle horticulture activity is still below the forecast levels in the peak years of
2004–05 and 2005–06 before the millennium drought and the roll-out of water restrictions
in South East Queensland undermined demand for the industry’s products and services.
The recent announcement by the Queensland Water Commission (QWC) that water
restrictions for residential consumers in South East Queensland have been eased to
Target 170 levels as the region’s key water storages reached 40% capacity following
good recent winter rainfall has been welcomed by the industry. The QWC predicts that the
implementation of their long-term water management strategies will ensure that South East
Queensland will not have to experience severe water restrictions again and this is positive
news for the lifestyle horticulture industry.
Consumers have become more ‘water wise’ as a result of the drought and this has had a
number of implications for the demand for lifestyle horticulture products and services. For
example, a recent household survey conducted by the Queensland Government indicates
that 73% of respondents have either abandoned or reduced watering of their gardens, 42%
of respondents have retrofitted their gardens with drought-tolerant plants and 38% have
reduced expenditure on their gardens.
Businesses in the lifestyle horticulture industry have also worked hard to become more
water-efficient, by complying with the Water Efficiency Management Plan implemented
during the drought. Compliance measures include aiming for industry best practice in
terms of water use, and meeting water efficiency improvement targets. The Queensland
Government and peak industry organisations are also working together to ensure that the
recent gains made in sustainable water management by both consumers and the industry
are maintained. A range of information resources have been developed to provide advice to
consumers about how they can still garden using water-wise plants and practices, and also
to utilise alternative water sources such as greywater.
Training and education programs about efficient water use have also been rolled out
throughout the various sectors of the lifestyle horticulture industry. These drivers will
continue to strengthen consumer confidence to establish, build, or retrofit gardens, which
in turn is expected to sustain further medium-term growth in the lifestyle horticulture
However, some sectors of the lifestyle horticulture industry report that consumers are
beginning to reduce discretionary expenditure to meet rising fuel, food and mortgage costs.
The cut flower and retail nursery sectors appear to be the most affected at this stage. Most
lifestyle horticulture businesses also indicate that they are experiencing ongoing difficulties
in meeting their labour needs, particularly those businesses seeking to increase production
DPI&F recently finalised a major project to develop a whole of lifestyle horticulture
industry strategic plan in conjunction with key industry participants. This plan identifies
opportunities for the lifestyle horticulture industry to provide a range of climate change
solutions, in particular for green life to be acknowledged as a solution for commercial
enterprises that want to take action on climate change and sustainability challenges.
It also highlights opportunities for the industry to better communicate the economic,
health, psychosocial and environmental benefits of urban landscapes. If realised, these
opportunities will assist the industry to broaden its current product range and markets, and
in turn support future growth.
Please note that DPI&F has initiated a major industry survey to collect reliable new
information about the Queensland lifestyle horticulture industry. When available, the results
of this survey will be reported in Prospects and will become the basis of future forecasts.
The gross value of nursery production is
forecast at $451 million in 2008–09, 10%
higher than 2007–08.
ABS data indicate that nursery production
occurs across much of Queensland but on
a relatively small scale. The shire of Crow’s
Nest on the Darling Downs had the largest
area dedicated to nursery production—
almost twice the area in the next biggest
production regions of Cairns, Maroochy and
Activity in the nursery production sector is
forecast to increase by 10% in 2008–09,
following a (revised) similar forecast
increase in 2007–08. Good late spring
and early summer rainfall across much
of Queensland, followed by higher than
average winter rainfall across most of
south-eastern Australia, has boosted demand for green life (ornamental plants), as well as
planting stock for other horticulture industries. Interstate demand, particularly for mature
plant stock, has been steady and this has supported overall growth in the sector.
Production nurseries supplying specialised markets, such as native and water-wise plants,
have enjoyed recent strong demand for their products as consumers seek to retrofit their
gardens as a result of the drought. The indoor plant hire sector has recently boomed as a
result of the growing awareness of the health and wellbeing benefits of plants, and also
as a result of ongoing population growth in South East Queensland. Production nurseries
supplying the indoor plant hire sector reported significant growth in 2007–08 and expect
this growth to continue throughout 2008–09.
However, rising transportation costs have become a significant burden for many production
nurseries, particularly those nurseries selling significant amounts of stock to distant
southern markets. Difficulties in obtaining labour, particularly skilled labour, also continues
to impede growth in this sector.
The gross value of turf production is
forecast at $81 million in 2008–09, 16%
higher than 2007–08.
Turf production is concentrated in
South East Queensland, particularly in
Beaudesert, Caboolture and Esk shires.
Good late spring and summer rainfall in
the large population centres of South East
Queensland, followed by high than average
winter rainfall has boosted market demand
for turf grass. DPI&F forecasts that the turf
production sector will increase its annual
GVP by 16% (to $81 million) in 2008–09.
This builds on the revised moderate growth
of 2007–08, and reverses some of the
dramatic declines in activity reported in
40 2005–06 and 2006–07.
The turf grass production sector expects that the continued easing of water restrictions in
South East Queensland will generate further increases in demand for new and renovated
lawns over the spring months of 2008. The ongoing development of new markets for turf
grass, such as drainage and land rehabilitation, is also expected to support overall demand
However, a reported downturn in the demand for turf grass from the new home segment of
the market is expected to moderate the overall forecast growth of the turf grass production
sector in 2008–09. This trend is due to a range of factors, including the diminishing size
of the average house block, the growing footprint of new houses on these blocks, and the
increasing substitution of ‘hardscape’ materials such as concrete, gravel and pavers for turf
grass in new home landscapes.
The GVP of cut flowers and foliage is
forecast at $125 million in 2008–09, the
same as 2007–08.
Local markets for cut flowers continue to
experience poor demand conditions, with
Australia’s largest cut flower trading centre
at Flemington markets in Sydney reported to
be at an all time low. Consequently, DPI&F
forecasts that the cut flower sector GVP will
remain flat in 2008–09 (at an estimated
$125 million). If realised, this means
that cut flower GVP will be similar to the
2000–01 level when DPI&F undertook its
first comprehensive survey of the lifestyle
Traditionally, activity in the cut flower
sector picks up in February as a result of
the Valentine’s Day demand ‘spike’ and this
increased activity is usually sustained through to Mother’s Day in May. However, in 2008
the cut flower sector reports that the demand peak in February was not sustained, and
that conditions remained subdued until the second ‘spike’ associated with Mother’s Day.
Consequently producers are pessimistic about demand conditions in 2008–09.
More difficult economic conditions have resulted in lower consumer spending on
‘discretionary’ items such as cut flowers. To some extent sustained demand for inexpensive
cut flower products sold by chain stores at the lower end of the market have supported local
growers over recent years. However, this market segment is increasingly being supplied
by product from relatively low-cost overseas producers. For example, imports of flowers
from India, a number of African nations, China and Vietnam, and to lesser extent Southern
American nations, are increasing. Roses, gerberas, lilies, carnations and other fresh flowers
from India are now being sold at Flemington markets on a daily basis.
The Queensland cut flower production sector is increasingly collaborating with other states
to address national issues of concern such as biosecurity. This initiative will consolidate
national policy development and help the sector address a number of concerns arising from
increasing imports in a more coordinated and effective manner.
Cut flower exports from Queensland continue to be negatively impacted by the sustained
high value of the Australian dollar against the Japanese yen and US dollar. Increased
transportation costs have also contributed to increased cost of production and a loss of
competitiveness for local producers. Tougher economic conditions are also negatively
impacting on cut flower markets in the Northern Hemisphere.
Cut flower production businesses are typically located in peri-urban areas with associated
high land values and urban encroachment challenges. These trends, together with the
ongoing impacts of the millennium drought, are expected to result in producers continuing
to exit the sector and support the trend towards larger businesses.
DPI&F forecasts moderate growth of about 5% for retail nursery sector GVP in 2008–09,
mostly driven by the increasing trend of retrofitting gardens with drought-tolerant plants.
The recent easing of water restrictions and good rainfall across the major urban areas in
South East Queensland also provides some optimism about positive trading conditions for
the forthcoming spring season and the remainder of 2008–09. 41
However, over the longer term the retail nursery sector faces many challenges. Time-poor
consumers are increasingly demanding ‘minimalist gardens’ that have little or no ongoing
maintenance requirements, which is resulting in reduced demand for ongoing plant
purchases after the initial installation. Furthermore, garden space is diminishing as a result
of the decreasing size of the average housing block and the increasing footprint of new
Retail nurseries are also under increasing threat from retail superstores that provide a
comprehensive range of merchandise (so-called box stores). In particular, a number of box
stores that have traditionally not sold green life have recently entered the Queensland green
life market and are reportedly gaining significant market share. This is a global trend and it
places increasing market pressure on retail nurseries to effectively differentiate themselves
from these operations.
The retail nursery sector has recognised these trends and is responding by attempting to
diversify their sales base by expanding into patio products, water tanks, cafes and gift
Landscapers (green life)
DPI&F is forecasting 10% growth in the large green life-related landscaping sector in
2008–09. This follows the more moderate forecast growth of around 5% in the previous
year, and the significant forecast decline in GVP in the previous year.
The easing of water restrictions is increasing consumer confidence and this is stimulating
increased activity in the domestic segment of the landscaping sector. However, ongoing
population growth and commercial development in Queensland continues to be the main
driver of the demand growth for this sector. As outlined in other sections, the deteriorating
economic conditions may moderate future growth.
Indoor plant hire
The Green Star rating was developed to provide a national comprehensive, environmental
rating scheme that evaluates the environmental design and features of buildings. The use
of indoor plants is encouraged in this process to filter pollutants from indoor air, release
oxygen, increase the relative humidity (in air-conditioned offices) and create a more natural,
pleasant and healthy working environment.
Businesses have identified the use of indoor plants as a cost effective method to increase
their Green Star rating and their overall environmental credentials. Ongoing commercial
development and population growth across Queensland is also boosting demand in this
sector. Consequently, DPI&F forecasts very strong GVP growth of 25% for this sector in
Table 4. Lifestyle horticulture value 2007–08 to 2008–09
Main industry sectors 2007–08 2008–09 (f) compared with
$m $m % change
Production nursery 410 451 10
Turf production 70 81 15
Cut flowers and foliage 125 125 –
Retail nursery 161 169 5
Landscape (green life–related
470 517 10
Grounds and maintenance 299 314 5
Indoor plant hire 40 50 25
Total lifestyle horticulture 1305 1437 10
Note: Industry sectors derived from the 2001 survey undertaken by DPI&F.
Playing the field
Innovative, sustainable ways of improving the irrigation and turf maintenance of
Sureplay®, a four-year research project led by turf and irrigation specialists in the
Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries (DPI&F), has shown that it is possible to
make it safer to play sport in Queensland—despite the effects of the drought and water
restrictions that reduce the quantity of water available for irrigating sports fields.
According to an independent report commissioned by Medibank Private in 2007, sports
injuries cost Australia $2 billion a year and Australian Rules footballers were the most injury
prone. So it is fortunate that a major aim of the research project was to assist the Australian
Football League Queensland (AFLQ) to improve the quality of its fields in a way that would
reduce the risk of injuries to players while also reducing the amount of potable water used
The research project was carried out where it was most needed—at the community sports
fields around South East Queensland. Further analysis and testing were done at DPI&F’s
Centre for Lifestyle Horticulture at Cleveland.
The project presented a challenge that needed the collective knowledge, skill and resources
of a range of organisations. DPI&F was assisted by Horticulture Australia Limited, AFLQ,
Brisbane Lions Football Club, Irrigation Turfgrass Consultancy Group and the University
of Southern Queensland’s National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture. The core project
team included DPI&F researchers Craig Henderson (project leader), Larry Cooper, Kaylene
Bransgrove and Greg Finlay, and received invaluable support from AFLQ head curator,
At the end of four years the project had achieved:
• a 50% reduction in water usage at the trial sites and other AFLQ fields—representing an
estimated water saving of 2500 megalitres each year in South East Queensland
• a major improvement in the condition of AFLQ sports fields—resulting in the playing
surfaces of many grounds approaching the standard of elite-level national fields
• a set of benchmarks for assessing ground quality—to be used as guidelines to make sure
that player safety is maintained and injury risks are limited
• the roll out of a world-first training program to over 2000 grounds maintenance staff—to
ensure that fields are safer and managed in a more sustainable way
• a store of knowledge and experience about ground standards and sustainable
irrigation—can be drawn on by the sports field management industry.
The Queensland Water Commission welcomed the research findings. After meetings with
the project team, the commission drew on the data to set appropriate water restrictions for
The gross value of Queensland’s sugarcane
production in 2008–09 (i.e. from the 2008
harvest) is forecast at $840 million, 12%
higher than 2007–08 but 22% lower than
While total sales of the Queensland sugar
industry, in raw-sugar equivalent, are
expected at $1.295 billion, this section
concentrates on the canefarming segment.
With industry deregulation, there has been
some move to wider pricing options for
sugarcane. Nevertheless, it is assumed
that there is no overall departure from the
65% grower share in the old uniform cane-
Queensland’s 2008 harvest started inauspiciously. The early-season accident in CSR’s
Pioneer Mill foreshadows another extended harvest season, with knock-on effects on the
vigour of subsequent seasons’ ratoons. Extensive winter rains along the eastern coast may
also affect harvesting schedules and sugar content. Thus, current expectations of a cane
crop of 32 million tonnes and a CCS7 of 13.7 are subject to considerable downside risks.
Sugar prices continue at low levels, but market operations offer increasing scope for some
improvement. Through the year ending March 2008, the average ICE no.118 price was
$260/tonne. The final Queensland Sugar Limited (QSL) discretionary pool price for 2007
is $276.86/tonne. Market operations have lifted CSR’s realised sugar price to $300/tonne
in the year ending March 2008, and similar pricing options offered by QSL are increasingly
accessible to canegrowers. In July, QSL forecast $280–320/tonne for their 2008 seasonal
price pool, and $270–310/tonne for the aggressive pricing pool.
World sugar prices did not follow the rise of those for grain, despite escalating oil prices and
the link between oil and sugar through Brazilian ethanol production from sugarcane. The
main reason for this was India’s boosted sugar production, which created a large surplus on
the international market in 2007 and forced the Indian Government to spend US$170 million
on export subsidies. Although sugar benefited from funds being channelled to commodities
following the US credit crisis, market fundamentals discouraged a lasting lift in sugar
prices. In all, over the last two years, raw sugar was the second-worst performer on the UBS
Bloomberg Constant Maturity Commodity Index.
Some analysts see hopeful signs for the coming season. Plantings in India are down by 17%
from last year, and the government may discontinue export subsidies from September 2008.
5.65 million tonnes of the European Union’s intended 6 million tonne production reduction
over the next four years has been subscribed. Meanwhile, demand is steadily increasing at
1.7% annually, potentially leading to a smaller oversupply in 2008–09.
In Queensland, announced construction of an ethanol mill in the Burdekin is the first major
processing investment in the industry for some time. The competitive influence of such
a new plant in the region can have significant benefits for Burdekin canegrowers. The
feasibility of a similar venture is being assessed for Ingham. Such new plants would open
new options for the industry whose single-product focus has been an ongoing impediment
to improving profitability. The struggle to get BioCane’s Nambour stockfeed plant into full
production shows the difficulties facing investors.
7 CCS (or commercial cane sugar) is a measure of sugar content.
8 In September 2007, the New York commodities exchange formally changed its name from New York
Board of Trade (NYBOT) to Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) futures US. The New York no.11 is now
referred to as the ICE sugar no.11.
However, the alternative of industry protection is demonstrating its limitations in the US.
Keeping domestic prices high by restricting imports does not help stagnant US demand
for sweeteners, but it has created an uncompetitive sugar industry. The decision by United
States Sugar to sell 75 000 hectares of cane land for conversion into wetland in Florida’s
Everglades indicates the US industry’s difficulties.
Life is sweet
Value-adding initiatives for sugar
‘Naturally functional foods’ is a research theme guiding the work of a number of Department
of Primary Industry and Fisheries (DPI&F) scientists. Stuart Johnson and his team are working
on several projects—some with international collaborators—aimed at developing a range of
functional extracts and ingredients from Queensland’s tropical products and by-products.
In one project, the DPI&F team is working with Resis Australia, using their sugarcane
separating technology to develop a new generation of natural sugar products. The cane
separation technology removes the woody sugarcane rind, leaving behind high-quality cane
pith that can be further processed into beneficial products for health-conscious consumers.
An example is the captured cane juices that retain health-enhancing antioxidants and fibre
components that are lost in the manufacture of white cane sugar.
By targeting the health market, these products will have an economic value many times that
of refined cane sugar. Not only will this result in increased returns to growers, but it will also
encourage the establishment of small local manufacturing operations producing marketable
health foods directly from cane.
DPI&F scientists are also working with the company Horizon Science on the development
of sugars that retain some of the health-promoting compounds usually discarded
during processing. The results of the work are being used in large-scale trials at several
international sugar mills that are interested in developing new healthy sugar products.
In a third area of research, DPI&F scientists are studying the physical and biological
properties of new dietary fibres formulated from a by-product of sugarcane processing.
The work, in collaboration with Japanese–Australian company Kristevefourspace Ussy Pty
Ltd, aims to develop the best possible formulations for incorporating the health benefits of
sugarcane fibre into consumer foods.
In 2008–09, the gross value of cotton
production (including the value of seed)
in Queensland is forecast at $340 million,
more than triple the 2007–08 estimate.
The outlook for Queensland cotton remains
favourable, with higher forecast world price
and increased water availability. Plantings
are expected to more than double. The
remainder of the GVP increase comes from
increased yields and prices. Cotton prices
have been soaring on the futures markets,
as further declines in US cotton production
are likely for 2008–09.
In the 2008–09 season cotton will face
strong competition from summer grain and
legume crops. But for those who do plant
cotton and achieve high yields, the returns
will be lucrative.
The GVP is forecast to be more than three times higher than last year. However, this estimate
is still lower than the historical gross value of cotton production in Queensland (Figure 12).
Lower estimates are associated with the high risk of producing such a water-intensive crop
under highly variable and uncertain water conditions. The significant declines in GVP in
2002–03, 2006–07 and 2007–08 are attributable to drought-related water scarcity. This
financial year, risk related to water scarcity is substantially lower than the last two years.
However, competition from summer crops is substantially increased on the back of record
world grain prices.
Figure 12. Gross value of cotton production 1997–98 to 2008–09
(f ) Forecast.
Source: ABS and DPI&F.
Figure 13. Status of major water storages in Queensland’s cotton growing regions
Source: Queensland Sunwater.
Figure 13 shows the current status of major water storages in Queensland’s cotton growing
regions. The availability of irrigation water has significantly improved since last year in
all cotton growing regions except the Darling Downs. In this region most of the water
requirements will come from flood and overland harvesting.
Other major field crops
The GVP of chickpeas in 2008–09 is
forecast at $60 million, 20% higher than
2007–08 and 71% higher than 2006–07.
The higher GVP forecast is due to a
marginally higher area planted and a small
increase in price.
Area sown has been relatively high in
Queensland (with a 4% increase to an
estimated 70 333 hectares) on the back
of good subsoil moisture conditions from
good rains in January and February 2008.
Rainfall was good in the south of Central
Queensland (around Emerald) in April–June,
however, the far south (Dawson–Callide
area) and the northern highlands (Dysart
area) received little rain over this period.
In 2008, approximately 15% of chickpeas
were early and deep sown in April, with the
remainder of the crop sown in late April to
Currently, assuming a price of around $580/tonne, chickpeas offer a gross margin
comparable to that of cotton, but with a lower outlay of costs. The chickpea gross margin
is also competing favourably with irrigated wheat and sorghum, as well as their dryland
counterparts. This, together with an expected chance of above-average winter rainfall
for 2008, is expected to at least maintain, if not slightly increase, chickpea plantings in
Queensland in 2008–09 compared to 2007–08.
An advantage of chickpeas over other cereal crops is that chickpeas are a crown-rot
disease breaker, which is a soil-borne root disease of wheat. Also, nitrogen is supplied by
chickpeas. These are added benefits of chickpeas even though they are profitable to grow in
their own right.
Due to good widespread rainfall in late July across Central Queensland and the Darling
Downs, the average chickpea yield is expected to increase from 1.3 to 1.5 tonnes per
hectare. This, combined with a slight increase in area sown, is expected to increase
chickpea production to 105 500 tonnes, 17% above the estimated yield for 2007–08.
The price of chickpeas has steadily been increasing over the past three years and is
$580/tonne as at July 2008. Global demand has increased, while pulse supply has fallen.
The US and Canada are large producers of maize and soybeans. However, due to 11 million
hectares of soybeans being displaced by corn in the US, there is now a global shortage of
pulses. Almost all (98%) of Australian chickpeas are exported to India and Pakistan. These
export buyers seek high protein pulses such as chickpeas. India has gone from being a
net exporter to a net importer of pulses, so export demand for Australian and Queensland
chickpeas is expected to continue to increase. Canada is Australia’s main trade competitor
in pulses. However, less trade competition is expected over 2008–09 because in Canada
and the US, field peas and maize are increasing at the expense of soybeans and pulses.
Set area contracts by growers in Queensland were selling for $650/tonne earlier in 2008.
Area contracts in July 2008 are for small areas, at around $580/tonne at port, or $600/tonne
at the farm gate.
In 2008–09 the average price of chickpeas is forecast to be $590/tonne, which is a 2%
increase on the average price in 2007–08.
In summary, the favourable chickpea price relative to other cereals and cotton, coupled
with relatively low cost outlays compared to cotton, should see plantings in Queensland
increase slightly over 2008–09. Given a current world shortage of pulses, and increasing
export demand from India, Queensland chickpea prices are expected to slightly increase
in 2008–09 from the previous year. This, along with increased yields expected for 2008,
should see a 20% increase in GVP.
The GVP of peanuts in 2008–09 is forecast
at $30 million, which is 20% higher than
2007–08 and double the 2006–07 value.
The increase in GVP is due to slightly higher
yield per hectare and a forecast increase in
The area sown in 2008–09 is expected to
remain the same as 2007–08, at 11 000
hectares. Assuming average summer rainfall
for 2008–09, peanut plantings over this
period will partly depend on the price of
sorghum relative to wheat, and the price of
soybeans, which are competitive summer
crops. Maize has traditionally been grown
in rotation with peanuts rather than as
a competitive crop. Good rainfall in July
2008 has provided much-needed water for
the cotton and peanut irrigation areas in
As at July 2008, there had been average rainfall in Kingaroy and some areas had above
average soil moisture due to good rainfall. In August 2008, Kingaroy received 15 mm of
rain and, despite patchy rain over the other peanut-growing regions, there has been useful
rainfall to boost sub-soil moisture in preparation for plantings in mid-October.
Yields will be variable across the state, depending on rainfall and the availability of
irrigation entitlements. Peanut production is forecast to increase by 10% in 2008–09
on the previous year, to 36 000 tonnes, due to a marginal increase in yields in response
to more favourable moisture conditions. Peanut production over the past 10 years has
been relatively low in Queensland due to drier than average summer conditions. Peanut
production is only limited by supply factors, such as rainfall levels and changes in area
sown due to the relative prices of other cereal crops, as domestic demand for peanuts
remains strong—peanuts being used in the manufacture of snack food, confectionary and
peanut oil. Often peanuts are imported (sometimes from Argentina) to counter the annual
shortfall in supply.
In 2008–09, peanut prices are forecast to remain at the high levels of the previous two
years, influenced by the world peanut market and continuing strong domestic demand for
peanuts. It is forecast that the average peanut price will increase by 10% in 2008–09 on the
previous year to $875/tonne.
The price of sorghum, and hence its competitiveness with peanuts, will largely depend
on the success of the winter crop. This winter, south of Goondiwindi, there has been good
rainfall for wheat and barley. The price of old season sorghum will decline if the winter crop
is good, in which case farmers will switch to peanuts because the price of sorghum will not
look as attractive. If the winter crops do poorly, then the sorghum price will increase and
farmers will likely switch more to sorghum instead of peanuts.
In July 2007, there was not much feedgrain due to low rainfall and a poor winter crop.
However, given relatively good subsoil moisture and a greater than 50% chance of above-
average rainfall in the winter crop growing regions of Queensland, wheat production is
expected to increase significantly for 2008–2009 on the 2007–08 year. This, combined
with a lower world wheat price, is expected to reduce the wheat price by around 15% for
2008–09, making sorghum less competitive with peanuts. Although, it must be noted that
sorghum is significantly cheaper to grow than peanuts.
Soybeans at $700/tonne are currently attractive to farmers and are cheaper to grow than
peanuts. However, peanuts help break the nematode cycle for other crops. Canegrowers
will often rotate with sorghum, maize and peanuts, with peanuts being the current favourite
crop. Both soybeans and peanuts put nitrogen back into the soil. However, which crop to
grow, peanuts or soybeans, will also depend on individual farm conditions, such as water
availability, soil type and labour involved (higher for peanuts).
Additionally, on the supply side, the costs of inputs are rising. The prices of phosphate-
based fertilisers have doubled in the past year, which will impact on the profitability of
50 growing peanuts, and sorghum in particular.
In summary, peanuts will likely be a competitive crop (with crop alternatives such as
sorghum and soybeans) in 2008–09, given higher peanut prices, and slightly higher yields
assuming average summer rainfall for 2008–09. Hence an increase in peanuts GVP is
In 2008–09, the GVP of soybeans is forecast
at $15 million, about the same as 2007–08
and triple the 2006–07 value.
In 2008–09, it is expected that there will
be a slight increase in area sown and
production and a 13% increase in price.
While this would suggest GVP should have
increased on last year, because of rounding,
GVP is the same.
The soybean crop last year in Queensland
was relatively low (at around 7775 hectares)
due to dry conditions. Area sown is
expected to increase in 2008–09 very
slightly by 3% to 8000 hectares, compared
to 2007–08. Yields of 2.8 tonnes/hectare
were expected; however, yields declined
to around 2.6 tonnes/hectare due to lower
than average yields in North Queensland.
Assuming average summer rainfall for 2008–09, soybean yields per hectare are expected
to increase slightly to around 2.8 tonnes/hectare. Production of soybeans is expected to
increase by 6% to 22 000 tonnes in 2008–09.
Australian domestic and export demand for soybeans exceeds domestic supply. Australian
production should be 80 000–100 000 tonnes per annum; however, due to dry conditions
since 2003–04 (when production was 74 000 tonnes), production has been significantly
lower than this.
The forecast price for soybeans over 2008–09 is expected to be high at around $717/tonne.
Given likely irrigation water shortages for cotton over the summer of 2008–09, lower expected
cotton prices, and assuming above-average production for winter cereals (which will put some
downward pressure on sorghum prices), good prospects are forecast for soybean growers.
Another recent phenomenon of the past five years is canegrowers on the Queensland sugar
coast around Mackay rotating soybeans with cane for agronomic benefits and to boost farm
cash flow (given the forecast higher price of soybeans). There were approximately 3000
hectares of soybeans sown on cane farms over 2007–08, which represented 40% of the
Queensland crop. The area of soybeans rotated with cane is expected to increase.
In Australia, 80% of soybeans is used for the edible market (for soy flour, soy milk and tofu),
and 20% is crushed for oil. Significant market opportunities exist for the Japanese export
market to make tofu, and to Taiwan, Korea and South-East Asia.
When soybean oil is in short supply, canola and sunflower oil can both serve—to some
degree—as substitutes. Currently, the domestic crushing market uses the equivalent of
30 000–40 000 tonnes of seed. However, there has been a shift from demand for soybeans
for crushing purposes to soybeans for edible purposes.
The soybean market is still very much developing, with new opportunities currently being
identified, so it is premature to estimate the size of the edible and crushing oil markets.
However, like sunflowers, production of soybeans is restricted by weather conditions and
not demand, since significant market opportunities exist for supply expansion. For example,
recently several private grain-trading companies have jointly set up soybean drying and
storage facilities on the sugarcane coast around Mackay to cater for increased demand.
Internationally, the demand prospects for soybeans are also good. In 2008, around 11 million
hectares of land have been diverted from soybeans to maize in the US, thereby increasing
world soybean prices.
In conclusion, the market outlook for soybeans is positive; however, assuming average
rainfall for summer 2008–09, there may be some competition from feedgrain crops such as
sorghum and maize as farmers look to establish good cash flow crops that have relatively
low overheads compared to cotton. However, soybeans will likely remain a competitive crop
and GVP is forecast at the same as 2007–08.
In 2008–09, Queensland’s GVP of sunflower
seed is forecast at $30 million, 20% higher
than 2007–08 and $28 million higher than
The increase in forecast GVP is due to
an expected increase in area sown and
production, despite a very small (1%)
decline in price (or with price virtually
The area sown to sunflowers in Queensland
is forecast at 26 280 hectares in 2008–09,
which is 46% higher than 2007–08.
Yields will be variable statewide depending
on rainfall. However, assuming average summer rainfall, production in 2007–08 is forecast
to increase by 20% to 35 240 tonnes. This is a result of increased plantings.
Sunflowers compete directly with sorghum as a crop. Sunflower prices are forecast to
be approximately three times per tonne higher than sorghum in 2008–09, which makes
sunflowers a relatively attractive crop to grow. Furthermore, sunflowers have relatively
low overhead costs and are comparatively water-efficient, which also makes them more
attractive to growers.
In 2008–09, the forecast sunflower seed price is expected to be $793/tonne, with sorghum
at $251/tonne and soybeans at $717/tonne. Hence, assuming average summer rainfall
conditions for 2008–09, the area sown to sunflowers is expected to increase by nearly 50%
in 2008–09 compared to the previous year.
Since the early 1990s, Queensland has produced progressively less sunflower seed amid
drier than average summers. The intrinsic demand for sunflower seed is approximately
120 000 tonnes for Australia. Companies such as Goodman Fielders are importing seed to
meet the demand. Usually domestic demand outstrips supply.
Currently, Australia imports approximately 60 000 tonnes of sunflower seed to make
25 000 tonnes of oil.
Australians consume 150 000 tonnes of palm oil and about 100 000 tonnes of tallow.
Hence, sunflower growers have an opportunity to meet the increasing demand for healthier
unsaturated oils. Over half the oils that are consumed in Australia are saturated. However,
there has been an increasing consumer consciousness of, and demand for, unsaturated
vegetable oils. Hence, there is an opportunity for sunflower oil to take market share from the
saturated fat market.
There has also been a trend towards switching demand to monounsaturated sunflower
oil from polyunsaturated oils, which requires sowing a different variety of sunflower.
The polyunsaturated variety is used for margarine and cooking oil, whereas the
monounsaturated variety is used by the commercial sector for producing crisps,
confectionaries and other saleable food items. This represents a significant marketing
opportunity for growers.
In summary, the following factors are likely to contribute to an increase in sunflower
plantings and production over 2008–09, with a consequent 20% increase in GVP in
• the current high price per tonne of sunflower seed relative to alternative crops
• lower water requirements of sunflower and
• lower cost outlay of sunflowers relative to alternative crops.
The chic pea
Improved traits for chickpeas
Chickpeas are becoming increasingly important to Queensland farmers for two principal
reasons. Firstly, they are a significant and high-value export crop. Secondly, chickpeas
(along with mung beans) are a key pulse crop for dryland and irrigated farms in Queensland
where they play an essential role in sustainable rotations for cereal-based farming systems.
As a rotational crop, chickpeas provide disease breaks and improve soil health. For these
reasons, a team from the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F) is working
to improve the chickpea varieties available to Queensland’s farmers.
The team is led by plant breeder Col Douglas, who studied at the University of Birmingham
in the United Kingdom where he specialised in the area of plant genetic resources—a
discipline recognising that traditional plant varieties and their wild relatives are a key
source of genetic diversity for the improvement of modern crop varieties.
The work of Col and his team is part of Pulse Breeding Australia, a joint initiative funded by
a number of organizations, including the Grains Research and Development Corporation
and the government departments responsible for agriculture in several states. The team
has been given access to a priceless collection of chickpea germplasm from the N I Vavilov
Research Institute of Plant Industry in Russia. Located in St Petersburg, the institute is
named after Russian plant geneticist Nicholai Vavilov, whose life’s work was collecting wild
and cultivated seeds from across the world—by the early 1930s he had amassed over
250 000 samples.
Naturally, Col is enthusiastic about being given this opportunity:
‘It is very exciting to be working with this material—it is a treasure trove of potentially
valuable new traits for Australian chickpea breeders.’
The team’s research has already contributed to a seven-fold growth in the Queensland
chickpea industry over the last 10 years and has directly led to the successful release of the
chickpea cultivar, Kyabra. Bred by DPI&F and released in 2006, Kyabra is broadly adapted to
production in the northern grain growing areas of the state and has the best seed quality of
any desi-type chickpea in the world.
In response to the trend for grain production to move northwards into tropical production
environments, DPI&F research will continue to focus on developing shorter duration
chickpea varieties adapted to the hot, dry winters of western and Central Queensland.
Winter cereal grains
The GVP of wheat in 2008–09 is forecast at $500 million, 39% higher than 2007–08 and
more than double 2006–07.
The higher GVP is due to a combination of larger area sown and higher production, despite a
projected 15% fall in price.
Queensland wheat production in 2006–07 and 2007–08 was relatively low due to inadequate
winter rainfall, with production in these years totalling 830 000 tonnes and 930 000 tonnes,
respectively. However, a high wheat price of $383/tonne for multi-grade wheat in 2007–08
compensated in part for reduced production, with a GVP of around $360 million generated.
Even though price per tonne of multi-grade wheat is expected to fall by 2008–09, this is
expected to be outweighed by a 64% increase in production.
Relatively high wheat prices and a switch away from cotton production, combined with good
soil moisture storage, has resulted in a forecast 30% increase in area sown in 2008.
In early June 2008, good rainfall occurred on much of Queensland’s cropping regions. As
a result of above-average summer rainfall, much of the Queensland grain belt has good
subsoil moisture, even though below-average rainfall since has dried out the topsoil. The
rainfall so far for the 2008 winter has been below average and patchy for the Western Downs
areas, which supply about 60% of the Queensland wheat crop.
As at mid-September 2008, below average August rainfall was received over most of the
state’s wheat cropping region. Additionally, there have been some stripe rust, yellow spot
and mice problems encountered in southern Queensland crops, along with some frost
problems in Central Queensland. However, these factors are likely to be insufficient to
decrease the crop outlook across the entire region. Further, good rainfall received at the
beginning of September, with more rain expected around mid-September, should help crop
flowering and grainfill as harvest time approaches.
Further, between 7% and 10% of the wheat crop is irrigated this year, leading to an average
yield of 2.15 tonnes/hectare, which is above the usual 2 tonnes/hectare. Higher yields are
also expected on average due to the expected higher than average rainfall. As a result,
production is expected to increase by around 65% to 1.52 million tonnes in 2008–09.
However, stripe rust will likely be an increased risk for the Queensland wheat crop this
year, with conditions moister and cooler this season than average. On balance, production
of wheat for 2008–09 is forecast to increase by 64% on the previous year to 1.52 million
Many cotton producers are sowing wheat instead of cotton this year for several reasons:
• a relatively low cotton price compared to that of wheat
• a lack of irrigation water for cotton, with wheat demanding less water
• wheat will help improve the cash flows of many cotton and grain farms, with lower farm
overheads than would be incurred under cotton.
When wheat is sown on cotton farms, the paddocks will be left to fallow over summer, with
a proportion of farm paddocks only sown to wheat. There is also expected to be a shift from
cotton production to other summer crops such as sorghum, maize and sunflowers.
There has been a switch from wheat to sorghum by feedgrain purchasers, particularly in
2007–08, due to the $70–80 premium that wheat commands over sorghum. Even though
wheat has more energy and protein than sorghum, feedlot purchasers are opting for the
cheaper feed. As a result, it is anticipated that out of an expected Queensland wheat yield
of 1.52 million tonnes for 2008–09, only 200 000 tonnes will go to livestock feed, whereas
three years ago 300 000 tonnes was being sold as livestock feed. Approximately 300 000
tonnes of Queensland wheat will be consumed for milling purposes in 2008–09 at a forecast
$326/tonne (Brisbane track price), with the remaining one million tonnes of wheat exported.
Given that high sorghum plantings are expected over 2008–09, the price differential
between wheat and sorghum will likely stay relatively constant for 2008–09; sorghum will
therefore remain a competitive feedgrain crop.
There are currently seven main economic factors affecting the Queensland wheat market:
1. AWB has this year deregulated the Australian bulk wheat market, which means that
prices will reflect true global levels. Previously, the AWB would pool growers’ returns
and buffer producers from extreme high and low world prices. The recent deregulation
means that although growers may take advantage of high world prices, they may also be
exposed to greater volatility and lower prices. Growers operating at the margin might be
at more risk of financial hardship under these increasingly volatile economic conditions,
and more risk-averse farmers may plant less wheat.
2. Conversely, other commodity trading firms—as well as the AWB—may now also apply
for grain export licenses, so the possibility exists for future planting to increase in line
with forward export price contracts offered by private traders. For the container market,
which specialises in exporting containers of high protein wheat to overseas clients, an
increase in contracts is expected. In addition to a likely increase in wheat contracts,
wheat price will remain a major factor in determining plantings.
3. The wheat market (both export and domestic) is expected to remain volatile, given
fluctuating supplies by other wheat export countries and current low world wheat
4. In 2008–09, world wheat supplies are expected to increase by more than consumption,
causing some downward pressure on the world wheat indicator price.
5. Even though low world wheat stocks are expected to help maintain high world wheat
prices, a strengthening Australian dollar may also depress wheat export prices received
by Australian growers. Because domestic milling grade wheat generally follows export
prices, this may have a dampening effect on domestic milling wheat prices as well.
6. Despite a fall in wheat prices over the past year, world wheat inventories are currently
low so that any disruption to world wheat supplies could quickly cause prices to
7. Continued increasing demand for US corn-based ethanol will likely help maintain
buoyant prices of other cereal grains, such as wheat, on the global market.
In summary, the area of wheat sown and production in Queensland is expected to increase
in 2008–09, partly because of higher levels of subsoil moisture and higher than average
expected rainfall in the winter crop growing regions. Additionally, irrigated cotton areas
are being planted to wheat. Due to world supplies outstripping demand, an appreciating
Australian dollar, and expected higher Queensland wheat production in 2008–09, the price
of multi-grade wheat is expected to fall to $325/tonne in 2008–09, compared to $383/tonne
in 2007–08. However, low world wheat inventories, and continuing strong demand for milling
wheat domestically and overseas should see domestic wheat prices supported at relatively
high levels. Consequently, the GVP of Queensland wheat in 2008–09 is expected to increase
significantly from 2007–08.
In 2008–09, the gross value of barley production is forecast at $45 million, 18% lower than
2007–08 but more than triple the 2006–07 value.
The fall in gross value compared to last year is due to a combination of smaller area planted
and lower prices, both of which are projected to fall by 15%.
In 2007–08, barley production was estimated at 166 067 tonnes, up from 75 025 tonnes
in 2006–07. This, along with a 9% increase in price to $331/tonne more than doubled the
barley GVP for 2007–08. However, barley area sown and price for 2008–09 are projected to
There are several possible reasons for the forecast decline in area sown.
One reason is that this year (2008) the rain has come late. This has increased plantings
from barley to wheat. Barley goes into the ground in about April/May, while wheat is sown in
May/June. Despite this, winter crops in 2008 have potentially better growing conditions than
last year due to greater subsoil moisture, which was received two to three weeks earlier in
2008 than the previous year. There was good rain over summer 2007–08, and in the 2008
winter there has been early June rain instead of late June rain. In 2007 barley was even being
planted in July.
Another reason for the smaller area expected to be sown in 2008–09 is the declining
demand for barley by feedlots. Around 90% of barley is for feedgrain.
Seven years ago most feedlot producers were using barley; however, they now prefer wheat
to barley because:
• Wheat performs better (wheat consists of 15–16% protein, and has a higher energy
content than barley).
• Wheat is more readily available than barley.
Growers are now switching to wheat because of:
• a higher wheat price
• a favourable agronomic performance (compared with barley).
Barley yields are expected to be variable across the state due to differences in subsoil
moisture before planting and patchy rain during early crop growth, especially in southern
Queensland (the Western Downs areas). Despite the forecast lower sorghum plantings for
2008–09, sorghum yields are expected to increase by around 13% on average from the
previous year, due to greater subsoil moisture and expected higher than average rainfall
for the Queensland winter crop areas. On balance, barley production is forecast to fall by
around 4% to about 160 000 tonnes in 2008–09.
This switch away from barley as a stockfeed also likely explains a significant proportion of
the forecast decline in barley price.
The profitability of feedlots has recently been squeezed by the high Australian dollar,
higher feedgrain prices, and adequate rain in 2008 that has enabled graziers to keep cattle
fed on grass. This has also impacted on barley demand and, therefore, price. Feedlots
in Queensland in the first quarter of 2008 were reportedly operating at 50% utilisation;
however, in the second quarter of 2008 this has increased by 14%. This, in addition to the
fact that approximately half of the Australian cattle on feedgrain are located in Queensland,
means that the base demand for barley as stock feed will likely be maintained.
Growers are currently a bit hesitant about growing barley because of increased sorghum
supplies and its cheaper availability. Another factor which may possibly depress barley
price is the high availability of old season sorghum and expected continued high supplies of
new season sorghum for 2008–09. However, due to sorghum’s relatively high fibre content,
and hence increased digestibility requirements, there will likely be limits to how much
barley and wheat are displaced by sorghum as a feed ration.
US production of corn is expected to fall by 7% in 2008–09, to 308 million tonnes. The world
coarse-grains price (based on US corn, fob Gulf) is expected to increase by US$11/tonne
to US$225/tonne in 2008–09, due to continued strong demand for corn used for ethanol
production. This means that world cereal grain prices will likely remain buoyant, reflecting
56 lower availability of US corn for feed and human consumption. Despite this increase in world
price, domestic feed barley prices are expected to fall by 10% to A$284/tonne, due to an
expected recovery in Australian barley plantings from the 2007 drought conditions.
Given that Queensland is a net importer of barley from Western Australia and South
Australia, Queensland barley producer returns will likely reflect this lower domestic barley
price in 2008–09. It is forecast that the average price for barley during 2008–09 will be
$282/tonne on a delivered Brisbane equivalent,15% below the 2007–08 level.
In summary for 2008–09, expected plantings, and hence production of barley, will likely
fall from 2007–08 levels as growers reduce their plantings of barley in favour of wheat,
and in hesitation over expected high supplies of and consequently lower sorghum prices
over 2008–09. Additionally, low rainfall at planting time meant that in some areas barley
could not be sown. Lower feed wheat prices will also likely decrease the demand for barley.
Consequently, for 2008–09, the GVP of barley is expected to fall by 18%.
The cost of frost
Understanding the physiological effect of frost on crops
Farmers who grow crops in areas susceptible to frost can face reduced yields or even
total crop loss. While science hasn’t yet found a way to stop frosts, researchers from the
Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F) are working on changing the plants
themselves to make them less vulnerable to the ravages of cold weather.
DPI&F scientists, Troy Frederiks, Dr Jack Christopher and Dr Andrew Borrell, are using
thermal infra-red imaging to better understand the physiological effect of frost on plants.
The imaging can be used both in the field and under artificial conditions to study super-
cooling, nucleation and ice propagation in plants. The research team hopes to develop new
methods of artificial screening that can reliably determine which plants are resistant, and
which are susceptible, to frost damage.
This improved understanding has the potential to lead to a breakthrough in the
development of frost-resistant winter cereals. Once frost resistance is incorporated into a
variety, that resistance should be permanent.
Currently, in Queensland and northern New South Wales, the combined yield loss in wheat
and barley crops due directly to frost damage is estimated at $120 million in an average
year. The total losses are even greater after taking into account those losses incurred due
to delayed planting, which is needed to keep frost risk to acceptable levels but which
dramatically reduces yield potential.
DPI&F researchers believe that new winter cereal cultivars with modest improvements
in frost tolerance (for example, tolerance to 2°C colder than current cultivars) would
dramatically reduce the frequency and cost of severe frost damage. Such cultivars could
also be planted earlier while maintaining a similar frost risk and this could potentially result
in dramatic increases in yield.
Summer cereal grains
In 2008–09, sorghum GVP is forecast at
$425 million, 11% lower than 2007–08 and
more than double the 2006–07 value.
The decrease in GVP for 2008–09 is due
to a slightly lower area planted for the late
September/early October 2008 planting
window and a 6% decrease in production
forecast, along with a 5% decline in price
For 2007–08 the area sown and yields
per hectare increased significantly from
2006–07, with total production increasing
by 160% (to an estimated 1.795 million
tonnes). This was due to good summer
rainfall over 2007–08, with some increase in areas sown possibly motivated by a relatively
poor winter wheat crop in that year, and a switch from cotton production to sorghum (a
result of low irrigation water supplies and relatively low cotton prices). The area planted to
sorghum in 2008–09, while still high, is forecast to fall by 4% from the previous season.
Factors likely to maintain high areas of sorghum sown over 2008–09 include:
• Winter rainfall at the start of 2008–09 has been below average for parts of the Darling
Downs, which has left large winter crop areas (for wheat, barley and chickpeas) unsown
in this area. Given that this area represents approximately 50% of the Queensland
sorghum crop, there will be large fallowed areas potentially sown to sorghum from
September 2008 onwards.
• Some irrigated summer crops (such as cotton) will likely be less viable to plant given
likely low water availability and allocations over the 2008–09 summer. This will make
sorghum (in addition to maize and sunflowers) an attractive crop option to farmers given
its relatively high returns and low overhead contribution to farm cash flows.
• Sorghum is approximately $70–80/tonne cheaper than wheat as a feedgrain, so it is
in relatively high demand by feedlot producers even though it has a lower protein and
energy content than wheat.
In contrast, supply of winter grains is likely to be higher in 2008 than for the winter of 2007,
given that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has forecast for most of Queensland for the
June to August period, that rainfall will exceed the average with a probability of 60–70%.
This has increased shire yield expectations across most of the state. Assuming that crop
yields for winter 2008 exceed those of last year, the higher supplies will likely put some
downward pressure on wheat and barley prices, thereby making them more attractive to
feedgrain buyers. Consequently, demand for sorghum grain may decrease slightly relative
In 2008–09, the area sown to sorghum is expected to decline marginally by 4% to 520 000
Sorghum yield is expected to fall marginally in 2008–09 compared to the bumper harvest
yields of 2007–08. Combining this with a slight reduction in area sown, sorghum production
for 2008–09 is expected to fall slightly by 6% to 1.69 million tonnes.
The average grain sorghum price for the 2008–09 year is forecast at $251/tonne delivered
Brisbane. While still relatively high, this forecast price is 5% lower than the 2007–08 price.
Currently prices are below export parity for sorghum, and exportable surpluses of sorghum
need to clear. This is due to the bumper crop harvested for 2007–08. About 500 000 tonnes
of sorghum will be exported up to the end of January 2009 from Queensland. If wheat
production for 2008–09 is high then more wheat will supply the feedgrain market than usual,
and international market forces will be the main determinant of sorghum demand and price.
Production of maize in the US is not set to increase significantly over 2008–09; however,
given that relatively large areas of cropland will likely stay in maize production in the
US, this will likely help maintain strong prices for other grains such as wheat, barley and
sorghum, since little extra land will likely be freed up to increase production of these grains.
Assuming average summer rainfall for 2008–09, sorghum production will still likely remain
high for 2008–09; however, given a forecast slight decline in sorghum price and sorghum
area sown, the GVP of sorghum is expected to fall marginally relative to that of 2007–08.
Maize GVP for 2008–09 is forecast at
$60 million, the same as 2007–08 and
more than double the 2006–07 value.
The area sown to maize in 2008–09 is
forecast to increase marginally from
2007–08, assuming average seasonal
conditions and irrigation entitlements.
This is because of particularly low irrigation
water availability affecting maize production
regions in Central and southern Queensland
over 2007–08, and possibly the relatively
high price of maize compared to sorghum
(a competing crop). While yield is expected
to remain about the same in 2008–09 as in
2007–08, production of maize in 2008–09
is forecast to increase by 11% to 196 000
tonnes, in line with increased plantings.
While the area sown and production is expected to increase compared to the previous year,
this is expected to be outweighed by an approximate 8% decrease in price per tonne. The
average price for maize is forecast to ease to $308/tonne, due in part to increased supplies
of feedgrains in 2007–08, especially sorghum, and a decline in US corn futures in July 2008
due to a better than expected corn crop after the Iowa floods. This has softened the outlook
for maize, which in turn has reduced the expected price for Australian-grown maize.
With sorghum prices expected to be around $250/tonne for 2008–09, maize should
remain competitive as a summer crop. However, maize demands more water than sorghum;
therefore, given anticipated irrigation water shortages for the 2008–09 summer, sorghum
will still likely remain a popular crop. The availability of irrigation water over summer
2008–09 will also impact on maize plantings.
Of the 196 000 tonnes of maize expected for 2008–09, around 40% (or 78 400 tonnes) will
be sold as waxy corn and grit for human consumption. However, this is a limited market and
is currently filled by domestically produced maize. The remaining 117 600 tonnes of maize
will be sold domestically as feedgrain. It has been 10 years since Queensland produced a
maize crop big enough to sell to the export market. The lack of available markets for maize,
as a domestic feedgrain and for export, make potential maize growers hesitant about
producing this crop. However, the presence of a domestic grit maize market, and continued
strong demand for all feedgrains by end users in eastern Australia, should help support the
maize price in 2008–09.
International push to stay green
Cooperative research to keep plants healthy when water is limited
Changing weather and rainfall patterns, and the drought conditions created, are an
inescapable fact of global warming. These trends are an additional spur for researchers
worldwide, who are motivated by a fundamental strategy for maintaining, or even
increasing, crop production—finding ways to keep plants green, healthy and living longer,
especially when there is limited water available.
This search was the catalyst for an international partnership that began in 2000 and
involves scientists from the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F) and
three universities in the United States—Texas A&M (TAMU), Texas Tech and Missouri. By
focusing their research on identifying the actual genes associated with the ‘stay-green’ trait
in grain sorghum, the scientists are collaborating to build on the pioneering research work
of the DPI&F scientists who successfully bred the first stay-green variety of sorghum.
With funding from the Queensland Government and the Grains Research and Development
Corporation, DPI&F researchers Dr Andrew Borrell and Dr David Jordan are leading the
Australian end of this project. In the US, the team is led by Professor John Mullet and Dr
Trish Klein from TAMU and is funded by TAMU and the National Science Foundation.
The broad objective of the combined research team is to identify and understand the
function of the genes and gene networks that contribute to improved drought resistance
in plants, particularly under growing conditions where there is limited water available for
cultivation. The different scientists on the team are able to use a number of tools for their
research—physiological studies, plant breeding, simulation modelling, and sophisticated
genetic tools—and this creates a powerful combined approach that makes the most of each
Resist at your peril
Ensuring ongoing market access for Australian grain
Consumers worldwide demand grain that retains its quality but is also free of insects
and chemical residues. As a major exporter of grain, Australia would be severely affected
and locked out of world markets if the Australian grain industry—worth about $8 billion
annually—failed to live up to these standards.
The Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F) and its food protection team
are at the forefront of efforts to ensure that Australia’s grain industry remains a world
leader. The DPI&F team leads a network of scientists from around Australia who work with
grain merchants and bulk handling companies to ensure the sustained quality and pest-free
status of stored grains.
The grain industry traditionally relies strongly on fumigation as a means of controlling
insect infestations of stored grains; understanding resistance to fumigant and protective
insecticides as well as developing sustainable management strategies is a fundamental
goal for the network. However, in the past decade strong resistance to traditional chemical
control techniques has evolved in target pests. This seriously threatens the effectiveness of
standard control measures and could jeopardise market access for Australian grain.
DPI&F’s food protection team is monitoring levels of resistance and trends towards
resistance across Australia. Research is focused on identifying and characterising the
pathways and processes involved in these mechanisms. One aspect of this groundbreaking
research involves the development of a simple diagnostic test using molecular technologies
to rapidly and accurately diagnose resistance in insect samples.
In another part of the wide-ranging project, researchers will focus on two major pests—the
lesser grain borer and the rust-red flour beetle—to analyse the distribution, abundance and
movement of insect pests in the grains value chain, and the consequences for the selection
and spread of resistance.
DPI&F scientists are also involved in another national project investigating ways to optimise
grain yield and quality. This research is concentrating on better management of stored grain
by integrating high-moisture harvesting and improving techniques for drying and cooling.