CANBERRA, Australia (B)--Australia's cropping area is forecast to fall slightly in the period to 2004-05, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics said in its Australian Commodities March quarterly released Feb. 29.

The forecast drop is in response to relatively flat real prices for major grains and oilseeds, a slight rise in cattle numbers and a rise in wool prices.

Wheat area in 2004-05 is forecast at 11,112,000 hectares to yield 22,576,000 tonnes, down 7% from 11,952,000 hectares in 1999-00 which yielded a record 24,058,000 tonnes.

Australian wheat exports are forecast to peak at 17.7 million tonnes in 2001-02 before easing to 17.1 million in 2004-05; the Middle East and Asia are expected to remain major markets.

ABARE forecasts the net export pool return for the benchmark 10% protein Australian Standard White wheat at Aus $167 per tonne, flat over 2002-03 to 2004-05, and down from $175 in 1999-00.

Australia's 2000-01 wheat area is estimated at 11,774,000 hectares to yield 22,720,000 tonnes.

Canola area in 2000-01 is estimated at 1,502,000 hectares to yield 2,059,000 tonnes, down 15% from the 1999-00 area of 1,757,000 hectares which yielded 2,364,000 tonnes.

This will be the first fall in Australian canola area in eight years, largely in response to a drop in world prices.

Canola exports are forecast to climb to 1,912,000 tonnes in 2004-05 from 1,651,000 tonnes in 2000-01.

Total coarse grain area is forecast at 4.4 million hectares in 2000-01, and is expected to drop to around 4.3 million in 2004-05; major coarse grains are feed and malting barley, oats and sorghum.

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