Prospects for the 1997 cereal crop are favourable. The majority of the winter wheat and coarse grains have been planted and soil moisture is reported to be generally adequate for the early development of crops. Based on current crop conditions and assuming normal weather conditions during the remainder of the growing season, wheat output is forecast at some 17.5 million tons. This would be about 6 million tons down from last year's record but still above the average of the past five years. Output of coarse grains is expected to slip back by about 1 million tons from last year's bumper crop to some 9 million tons. However, the final outcome of the 1997 cereal harvest will still depend greatly on weather conditions during the remainder of the growing season. While current conditions remain favourable, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has forecast a strengthening El Nino weather effect which, if it were to materialize, would likely make large areas of eastern Australia significantly drier than normal in winter and spring.
FIJI (18 June)
Tropical Cyclone Gavin hit Fiji in March 1997. Reports indicate that storm surge was a major cause of flooding and damage to coastal crops and trees. Preliminary reports from Yasawa Group estimate that 30-40 percent of crops were damaged. Damage to sugar mills was provisionally estimated at F$ 6.3 million.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA (18 June)
Cyclone Justin affected Papua New Guinea in March 1997 destroying about 1 000-1 500 houses. Under public pressure, the Government has recently abolished an 11 percent duty on imported rice. Rice tax was one the revenue-raising measures introduced by the government.
TONGA (18 June)
Tonga has been hit by two cyclones during the past three months. The first, Cyclone Hina in March, mostly affected the main island of Tong’Tapu. The second, Cyclone Kelly, was in the first week of June. The National Disaster Relief Office reports that the cyclone damaged some 90 percent of the cassava and water melon crops, and 80 percent of bananas and giant taro. As a result, Niuafo’ou, northernmost island of Tonga, is likely to encounter food shortages in about six months.