VICTORIA'S wheat crop is on track to surpass 3.4 million tonnes, making it twice as big as last year's and almost 60 per cent bigger than the recent five-year average, according to figures released by the Federal Government's agricultural forecaster.
If the forecast proves correct, the crop would generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the Victorian economy and deliver Victorian grain growers their biggest wheat harvest in six years.
But the November heatwave, followed by heavy rains later in the month and more rain yesterday, could threaten the upbeat predictions.
Farmers warn that in some areas the hot weather could lower yields and therefore production. The wet weather that followed could downgrade quality, meaning some farmers could harvest wheat that is more likely to be less lucrative ''feed-grade'' wheat - only suitable for feeding stock - rather than wheat suitable for human consumption.
The crop forecasts from the Bureau of Resource and Agricultural Economics reveal that production in key grain states such as Victoria and South Australia is tipped to rise substantially. But because the conditions have not been uniform, total winter crop production across the nation (including wheat, barley and canola) is tipped to rise by only 6 per cent to 35.7 million tonnes.
Charlton farmer Russell Amery had intended to start harvesting wheat yesterday, but was stopped by rain. Mr Amery, who is president of the grains group of the Victorian Farmers Federation, said many crops had been in strong shape before the November heatwave.
''I think there's certainly going to be substantially more grain around than there was this time last year … (but) unfortunately with that hot week or 10 days at the start of November, and the rain in the last week of November and early December, it's certainly going to pull those numbers back and it's not going to be the quality that it was (going to be),'' he said.
Mr Amery said the heatwave would not threaten Mallee wheat crops that were already ready to harvest, but would test crops in regions further south.
VFF president Andrew Broad said indications were that the wheat harvest would be average to above-average yield-wise. ''I think as the harvest continues, we'll probably see better yields as the season moves south,'' he said.
But while some Victorian grain growers could harvest bigger crops this season, current prices are far lower than they were in previous seasons. Mr Broad said farmers delivering Australian Premium White wheat to a Bridgewater site yesterday would get $202 per tonne, compared to $303 a year ago and between $390-$400 two years ago.
Normanville farmer Geoff Hunt said he believed that many people in his district, the south-east corner of the Mallee, had finished their wheat harvest.
''It's raining again today and the rain that's fallen has done a certain amount of damage. It hasn't caused any grain to actually shoot as yet, but it's caused a reduction in the grain density, so there has been some loss of quality, but not disastrously yet. But it wouldn't want to rain any more,'' he said.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.