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Farm confidence up, but tough winter looms

Alex Druce
Sporadic autumn rain across Australia's eastern states has helped lift confidence slightly

The nation's farmers are bracing for another tough winter but sporadic autumn rain appears to have offered some hope of a reprieve.

The latest quarterly survey by agri-lender Rabobank recorded an uptick in overall rural confidence, though nearly 30 per cent of primary producers still expect conditions to worsen over the next 12 months rather than improve.

The poll of 1,000 farmers found parts of Western Australia, South Australia and the eastern states had been buoyed by patchy autumn rains but the ongoing dry spell had still managed to hinder producers as the colder months approach.

Rabobank Australia chief executive Peter Knoblanche said on Monday that many key agricultural regions had struggled through a severely dry autumn, waiting for the seasonal break to replenish well below average soil-moisture levels and depleted water catchments.

"This will have been weighing heavily on farmers as the winter cropping season began and as livestock producers moved into winter with poor pasture growth and low dam levels," Mr Knoblanche said.

Australia cut its wheat production forecast for the 2019/20 harvest by more than 11 per cent last Thursday as an unrelenting drought across the country's east coast threatens crops for a third year in a row.

Rabobank said drought remained the primary concern for farmers with some areas of Western Australia experiencing their driest five months on record and parts of South Australia having their driest start to the cropping season in more than 100 years.

New South Wales and southern Queensland had also missed out on drought-breaking rainfall.

However, Mr Knoblanche said, recent weather fronts which had moved across the continent in the past week to 10 days had brought late widespread rain to much of WA - offering hope to many in the state's cropping regions.

Strong commodity prices had also helped to underpin confidence, particularly among sheep graziers and, increasingly, dairy.

Mr Knoblanche said there were areas in southern NSW and Victoria that had received a decent autumn break and crops were emerging well.

Confidence in Victoria has climbed to its highest level since late 2017.