AUSTRALIA (13 March)

Harvest of the minor 1997 summer coarse grain crop (mostly sorghum), is due to start soon. Output of sorghum is forecast to drop sharply to about 1 million tons, from about 1.6 million tons in the previous year. Less favourable prices prior to planting last year prompted farmers to switch to alternative crops such as cotton and beans.

Planting of the main 1997 wheat and coarse grains crops is due to start in May. Latest official forecasts indicate that aggregate winter grain area will decrease by about 2.5 percent from the previous year's high level. Wheat plantings are forecast to decline by 500 000 hectares to about 10.5 million hectares. Farmers' planting intentions are mostly influenced by expectations of lower prices in the 1997/98 marketing year, and also reflect some limited rebuilding in sheep numbers and a return to more normal crop rotation patterns after the disruption of an extended drought in the states of Queensland and New South Wales. Soil conditions are reported to be good in most winter cropping regions, enabling growers to complete early land preparation meaning only modest rains are needed to allow winter crop planting intentions to be realised later in 1997. Based on current area indications, and assuming a return to normal yields after last year's bumper levels, winter grain output is tentatively forecast to decrease by about one-quarter from 1996.