Wheat


Wheat is still Australia’s most important agricultural crop both for production and export. It is produced
in all states but primarily on the mainland in a narrow crescent known as the wheat-belt. Inland of the Great
Dividing Range, the wheat-belt stretches in a curve from central Queensland through New South Wales,
Victoria and southern South Australia. In Western Australia, the wheat-belt continues around the south-
west of the State and some way north, along the western side of the continent. Table 1 shows the area,
production and receivals of wheat between 1987 and 1995.



Table 1- WHEAT: Area, Production and Receivals
Area (a) Production (a) Australian Wheat
Season For grain(‘000 ha) All purposes(‘000 ha) Grain(‘000 tonnes) Gross
value($millions) Board receivals(‘000 tonnes)
1987-88 9,005 9,141 12,287 2,016 10,740
1988-89 8,827 8,932 13,935 2,976 12,954
1989-90 9,004 9,093 14,214 2,792 13,057
1990-91 9,218 9,237(b) 15,066 1,988 13,047
1991-92 7,183 7,213(b) 10,557 2,097 6,769
1992-93 8,275 8,296(b) 14,739 2,670 12,173
1993-94 8,383 8,400(b) 16,479 2,867 13,811
1994-95 8,386 8,432(b) 9,046 1,927 6,114
(a) Area and production data relate to the year ending 31 March.
(b) Excludes wheat for hay for all States, except New South Wales.




N.S.W. has always been by far the largest producer of wheat until the end of the 1980’s when Western
Australia produced more wheat in some years when drought affected the Eastern States. Each hectare in
N.S.W. usually produces much more wheat than a hectare in Western Australia because N.S.W. has the
best climate and best soils for wheat growing. The area planted in N.S.W. has not increased very much in
recent years but production, particularly in good seasons, has risen steadily for many years. The area of
wheat planted in Western Australia has however increased steadily over the years and now extends much
further than it used to. Because the soil is poorer however, the yield per hectare is much less than in N.S.W.
Victoria has the most fertile soil of all but because of its size, is third in importance after N.S.W. and WA
Production in South Australia varies a great deal from year to year due to weather conditions. Tasmania,
due to its cold climate, is not able to grow enoug!
h wheat for its own needs and imports wheat from the mainland. Queensland used to produce very little
wheat but in good years can produce significant amounts. Table 2 shows the area and production of wheat
for each State between 1987 and 1995 (excluding ACT).

Table 2- WHEAT FOR GRAIN: Area and Production
Year NSW Vic. Qld SA WA Tas. Aust.
Area (‘000 hectares)
1987-88 2,464 1,026 646 1,556 3,312 1 9,005
1988-89 2,309 931 768 1,520 3,297 1 8,827
1989-90 2,123 952 894 1,557 3,476 1 9,004
1990-91 2,166 911 1,060 1,448 3,632 1 9,218
1991-92 1,499 664 492 1,297 3,230 1 7,183
1992-93 1,694 821 669 1,419 3,669 1 8,275
1993-94 1,978 780 556 1,216 3,852 2 8,383
1994-95p 1,492 854 596 1,469 3,974 1 8,386
Production (‘000 tonnes)
1987-88 3,997 1,882 718 1,803 3,882 4 12,287
1988-89 4,105 1,691 1,550 1,361 5,225 2 13,935
1989-90 3,423 1,961 1,420 2,607 4,800 3 14,214
1990-91 4,128 1,493 1,973 2,021 5,449 2 15,066
1991-92 2,183 1,150 344 2,141 4,736 3 10,557
1992-93 3,583 2,022 735 2,421 5,979 5 14,739
1993-94 5,086 222 555 2,121 6,689 5 16,479
1994-95p 764 898 222 1,507 5,652 3 9,046


Like all agriculture it has its good years and its bad years depending on the quality of the soil and the
amount of rain. In good years farmers tend to plant more wheat in soil that in bad years would not produce
any wheat. The international price of wheat and the demand from other countries is very important in the
farmer’s decision as to how much wheat to plant in any particular year. For example the highest production
since wheat began in Australia occurred in 1969 when nearly 15 million tonnes were produced. A slump in
world demand meant that by 1973 production dropped to about 6.5 million tonnes, the lowest since the
War. Production did not recover until 1979 when just over 18 million tonnes were harvested. The
disastrous drought of the early 1980’s reduced this dramatically but the breaking of the drought in 1983
created a record wheat harvest when 21.5 million tonnes were produced.


Just about every year since World War Two, the amount of wheat exported has grown. In 1949 for
example, just over 2 million tonnes were exported. By 1970 over 7 million tonnes were exported rising to a
post War peak of 13 million tonnes in 1980.
Just as the amount of wheat exported has risen each year, so the value of these exports has also risen. In
1949 our wheat exports earned Australia about $120 million. This rose to about $360 million in 1970 and a
record $2,000 million in 1980 when the largest amount of wheat was sold. Since then the value has dropped
as the amount sold has dropped but wheat is still our most important crop for export. In 1949 wheat earned
Australia about 10% of all its export income. Whilst the value of the exports has risen a great deal since
then, the proportion has not changed a great deal. This is because other exports such as minerals have also
sold well. In a good year such as 1980 wheat earned Australia 11.5% of its export income but this has
dropped