Heavy rains in eastern Australia could wipe out or damage up to 4 million tonnes of wheat due to be harvested shortly, forecasters said on Friday.
The “major weather event” being faced by most of Victoria and parts of South Australia and NSW this weekend poses a major threat to the countries grain harvest.
“The main concern is that these are the areas where crops are still being harvested,” said James Maxwell of Australian Crop Forecasters, which expects to downgrade its national wheat forecast of 21.7 million tonnes once the damage is assessed.
“At the moment, we estimate that around 4 million tonnes will be affected,” Mr Maxwell said.
It was not yet possible to determine how much of the crop would be wiped out and how much is downgraded due to the onset of re-sprouting, or premature germination, resulting in lower yields.
Victoria could see the loss or damage of up to 1.7 million tonnes, according to Maxwell.
In New South Wales and South Australia combined the figure for losses could reach as high as 1.9 million tonnes, Maxwell said.
Farmers have worked continuously to strip as much grain off the crops as possible resulting in just over 25 percent of this season’s crop of 3.4 million tonnes already being harvested.
On Thursday, Linc McClelland, a farmer from the Mallee in northern Victoria, told radio station 3AW he’d worked until until 4.30am to harvest his crops of wheat, barley, canola, chickpeas and lentils.
“We’ve finished everything other than the wheat,” he said.
“Another two or three days and we’d be right, but the rain will probably beat us. We won’t finish.
“You don’t often get long-range forecasts like this, so you try to do what you can. You just have to prioritise what’s there.”
Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke said it was “absolutely devastating to get this weather this time of year”.
Rainfall in excess of 250mm is forecast by the Bureau of Meteorology for parts of eastern Victoria, with the overall state expected to see more than 60mm.
Premier Daniel Andrews urged people to brace for a “very challenging period” over the next few days.
“This is a very serious matter, and one that will pose a real challenge to communities right across the state and will be a direct challenge to public safety,” he told reporters.