Final harvest data for wheat, barley and oats (milling/malting and feed) in 2020 show yields were up 17 per cent overall across the six crops.

The July AIMI (Arable Industry Marketing Initiative) Survey report showed these results were from a reduced number of hectares planted (down 6 per cent), with the net result being a 10 per cent increase in total tonnage compared to last season.

"For context, keep in mind when making the comparison that 2019's results were below average," Federated Farmers Vice-Chairman Grains, Brian Leadley said.

"Nevertheless, we have those reported strong yields and even a new world record. While the 17.398 tonnes/hectare of Kerrin wheat harvested on Eric Watson's Ashburton farm is testament to great management, it's also a reflection of a pretty good growing season."

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The yield rises recorded in the AIMI survey compared to 2019 were: wheat up an estimated 26 per cent, feed barley up 12 per cent, milling wheat up 11 per cent, malting barley up 1 per cent, milling oats up 5 per cent and feed oats up 6 per cent.

Weather conditions for autumn/winter sowing and establishment had been judged by survey respondents as being very good in most regions.

Federated Farmers Vice-Chairman Grains, Brian Leadley. Photo / Supplied
Federated Farmers Vice-Chairman Grains, Brian Leadley. Photo / Supplied

Sowings and intentions were similar to last season, with the exception of malting barley (down 10 per cent), milling oats (up 32 per cent) and feed oats (down 14 per cent) - although less than half of these crops had been actually sown as at 1 July.

Over the two-year period (2019 harvest to predicted 2021 harvest), the harvest area for feed barley and feed wheat was predicted to decrease by 14 per cent and 6 per cent respectively.

Conversely, the harvest area for milling wheat is predicted to increase by 26 per cent and for malting barley by 14 per cent.

"While the prediction for total planting area is stable, we're seeing a bit of a shift by growers to milling wheat rather than feed wheat varieties," Leadley said.

"Wrapped up in that is extra recognition for the quality of New Zealand wheat for domestic consumption and the work that's been done around raising the profile of our own New Zealand product is paying dividends.

"In tandem with that is the varieties we're growing are yielding quite well - not quite getting up to feed variety yields but they're getting quite close. So if growers swing to those, they've got choices in the market."

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Growers could put their wheat into the milling market but if feed wheat demand is stronger, they have that option. The reverse is not true: feed wheat varieties are generally not suitable for milling.

Survey responses indicate there could be a lessening of support around production of feed grains.

"That's a little concerning. While we've been pushing harder on those higher end value types were certainly still want to support feed demand," Leadley said.

"With a significant part of New Zealand having suffered from a serious drought, quite a bit of feed grain was consumed through that, but fair to say probably not as much as the arable industry would have liked to have seen."

A lot of maize grain was used in the North Island, where the bulk of that is grown. The AIMI survey reported a total of 6,200 tonne of unsold malting barley.

Most malting barley is used in beer production and with bars and restaurants closed for six weeks during the Covid-19 lockdown, there was disruption to demand and production, especially for keg beer.

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"I think this is a blip more than anything. Looking at the deliveries of last harvest of malting barley, they're better than I would have thought," Leadley said.

Most malting barley was grown under contract, and there was always the option of feeding it to stock if demand from industry is down.