Farmer sentiment remains high, but rain pain still to come

MIXED: Rabobank Australia chief executive officer Peter Knoblanche says bove-average rainfall has been a blessing in some sectors, but caused significant heartbreak in others.
MIXED: Rabobank Australia chief executive officer Peter Knoblanche says bove-average rainfall has been a blessing in some sectors, but caused significant heartbreak in others.

THE LIVESTOCK sector appears to have weathered the big rains and floods well, and summer croppers and cotton producers will capitalise on surety of water supplies and full soil moisture profiles.

Grain growers, on the other hand, will likely be altering previously-high income projections.

The full extent of the recent rains is yet to show up in rural confidence surveys, but insights such as these can be gleaned from Rabobank's latest survey report, which was in the field before the heavy falls hit.

It shows Australian farm sector confidence has eased from the near-record levels reported throughout this year but is still relatively very strong.

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Farmers believe the combination of high commodity prices, low interest rates and good seasonal conditions will continue in the year ahead.

A total of 84 per cent of Australian farmers surveyed forecasted the agricultural economy would continue to perform at, or exceed, its currently excellent levels in the year ahead.

The survey has also reported record high levels of business viability, with the Farm Viability Index, which measures farmers' assessments of their own business viability, now sitting at the highest level in the survey's history.

Rabobank Australia chief executive officer Peter Knoblanche said above-average rainfall had been a blessing in some sectors, but caused significant heartbreak in others.

In Queensland, it was being viewed as having more positive than negative impacts by many producers and would be a boon for the state's pastoral industry heading into summer, he said.

Elders northern zone livestock manager Paul Holm agreed.

The rain set up the feed base beautifully going into summer and was too early for fodder crops to be negatively impacted, he said.

"The vast majority of people are saying they can't remember it looking so good at this time of year," Mr Holm said.

"Beef producers by and large are high-fiving. We have high cattle prices that are likely to continue well into next year, green feed and very strong underlying demand for our product."

Cotton sector confidence was a stand-out this quarter, with 78pc of growers surveyed expecting business conditions to improve in the next 12 months. That was a lift of 8pc on the last figure.

Rabobank's analysts expect this to be the case for some time, given the now-healthy state of water storages and dams in cotton-growing regions.

Alex Galea, from Queensland's Central Highlands Cotton Growers' and Irrigators Association, said in general the national season was looking far grander than in a long time for cotton growers, although it was early days.

"Here in central Queensland, things are phenomenal. To have such exceptional planting rain in December is something growers haven't seen for a long time and something no one wants to walk away from, especially at $700 a bale," she said.

On the grains front, even before the impact of flooding and too much rain in the eastern states, producer confidence had begun to retreat, Rabobank reported.

Mr Knoblanche said the full extent of the damage to this year's east coast winter grain harvest was still being assessed, and it was unclear yet just how much grain has been downgraded to feed quality and how much would be a write-off.

"This is particularly heartbreaking for grain growers as they were very optimistic about this year's crop - it had enormous potential in both yield and value," he said.

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