(Bloomberg) -- Australia, the world’s second-largest wheat exporting country, is likely to see shipments slump 20% from record levels in the coming financial year as production tumbles because of a shift to a drier climate pattern.

Exports will probably fall to 22.5 million tons in 2023-24 from an all-time high of 28 million tons a year earlier, while output is set to decrease to 28.2 million tons from 39.2 million tons, government forecaster Abares said. The figure for the harvest just completed is up from 36.6 million tons estimated in December. Planting for the coming crop only gets under way in April.

Supplies of the food staple from Australia have helped to cap global prices in the past year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine choked shipments and sent the grain to a record. Production in Australia was boosted by plentiful rains from the La Nina weather event, and a return to less favorable, drier conditions is expected in the coming months, the agency said in a report. 

More from Abares:

  • The agricultural sector will be “affected by a flip into El Nino or positive IOD led drought-like conditions” in 2023–24, according to assumptions based on statistical analysis and climate modeling.
  • The Indian Ocean Dipole refers to a pattern of changes in sea surface temperatures in the western and eastern tropical Indian Ocean.
  • “Our expectation is that the climate’s going to shift towards a dry pattern,” Abares Executive Director Jared Greenville said in an interview. “We’ve had a run of three really wet years and that’s really unusual in the historical record.”
  • But given factors such as levels of water storage and soil moisture, production should still remain at about an average level, he said. Winter rainfall is a key uncertainty in terms of climate change.
  • Canola production in Australia is expected to decline by 35% to 5.4 million tons in 2023–24 on expectations of drier conditions.
  • Barley output is likely to shrink 30% to 9.9 million tons in 2023-24, while sorghum production is forecast to contract 28%.
  • The value of crop production is likely to fall to A$46 billion ($31 billion) in 2023-24 from a record A$54 billion, largely driven by a drop of about a third in the value of wheat, barley and canola output
  • Livestock production will remain relatively steady at A$35 billion
  • In 2023–24, the value of agricultural exports is forecast to fall to A$64 billion from A$75 billion a year earlier.

(Adds comment from Abares executive director from third bullet point)

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