PROTEIN levels in the first half the Australian cereal crop harvest have been lower than expected, in particular through northern NSW.
Grain marketers believe heavy crops in recent years, flooding over the summer period and the cool finish have contributed to lower than expected protein levels in northern NSW, the major focus of the harvest at present.
Rebecca Reardon, chief executive at Walgett-based Special One Grain, said most of the grain coming through northern NSW, a traditional hard wheat area, was coming in at the lower grade milling specifications, such as APW and ASW.
“Some people have been surprised given there was a dry finish, but we now think a lot of nutrient was leached during the summer flooding.
“Farmers were looking for protein when they did their fertiliser program as there was a decent premium for hard wheat at sowing time, but we think they have just underestimated how much nitrogen had been taken out of the soil, both through three big crops in a row and the floods.”
Ms Reardon said most nitrogen went on up-front in northern NSW.
In spite of the lower protein levels, she said yields were good.
“We are seeing wheat going around 3.5t/ha, which is really good when you look at how little in-season rainfall crops had – there’s no doubt stored moisture got it over the line.”
She said early sown crops, with more moisture early in the season, were outperforming later crops.
GrainCorp corporate affairs manager Angus Trigg said in spite of reports of low protein grain, the quality of grain coming into GrainCorp’s sites had generally been good.
He said GrainCorp had now taken 1.829 million tonnes of grain so far, with the southern Queensland and northern NSW zones the busiest in the past week.
With the rain forecast for this week, he said some GrainCorp sites, such as Coonamble, were open 24 hours to allow growers to harvest as much as possible before the rain.
Tom Howard, general manager at Philp Brodie Grains, based in Toowoomba, said harvest was tracking well through the Darling Downs region.
“On the whole, yields are down a bit due to the dry finish, and we are also seeing the trend towards low protein grain.
“The prime hard component of the crop wouldn’t be 10pc so far, which is low for this area.”
However, he was not sure whether the low protein story would continue to grow.
“It may be a case that the later sown crops, which were exposed to more heat, will yield a bit lower but also have higher protein than early sown crops.”
In terms of yields, he said there was a large variation, but he had heard of some yields up to 3.5t/ha, with averages around 1.6-2.4t/ha.
Australian Crop Forecasters’ Rory O’Sullivan said he was hearing of reports of low protein grain coming of, and said he attributed this to the wet sowing period and some issues with the availability of urea fertiliser at sowing.
In Victoria, Ash Munro, GrainAssist, Mildura, said the northern Mallee harvest was underway.
In a drought-impacted region, he said management practices were clearly showing up.
“Early sown crops are doing a lot better than the later sown ones.”
He said there were also reports of significant frost damage in canola, although there was still enough grain to warrant harvesting, with yields around 0.4t/ha recorded.
“There are some a bit better, and some a bit worse, its highly variable.”
Early deliveries of barley are also backing up the low protein story.
In South Australia, ProFarmer’s Malcolm Bartholomaeus said yields in early harvesting areas such as the Eyre Peninsula were disappointing.
“I’ve heard that some bulk handling sites on the EP won’t be opening this year, as there isn’t the grain about.”
In other parts of the state, he said crops would still benefit from rain, but there has been a lot of crop cut for hay in the SA Mallee due to a combination of the dry and frost damage.
In WA, the northern harvest is well underway, and southern areas are also starting.
Yields are reported to be on track, or slightly under, with protein levels generally normal.