A COMBINATION of drying conditions and concerns about locusts have meant croppers across Victoria have eased off their sowing programs, with plantings generally estimated to be 25-30 per cent complete.
In the north-east and the southern Riverina, there is more crop in the ground, while in the Western District, where planting begins later, it is all systems go, as farmers take advantage of the favourable start to the season.
It is slower going in the Mallee, where growers are just beginning to get back into sowing, following the cold weather lowering the locust threat, and in the Wimmera, where most croppers are chipping away at their sowing program as moisture issues begin to surface.
Stock & Land spoke to agronomists across four of the state’s major cropping zones and got an insight into the state of play in each region.
Dodgshun Medlin agronomist Rick Rundell-Gordon, Swan Hill, said fears about locusts had pushed sowing later than was ideal, and that farmers were now sowing into dry top-soil.
“On the lighter sandy loam, there is probably enough to germinate crops still, but on the heavier ground it may take another shower to get plants emerging.”
Overall, he said the Mallee was between 20-33pc complete, although he said a true assessment was hard to get until locust damage was factored in.
“We don’t really know what will need to be resown, so that makes it difficult.”
“As a general comment, I’d say we are probably ten days to a fortnight behind the eightball,” Mr Rundell-Gordon said.
“Generally, people like to get started now around Anzac Day, and anything that was sown then has suffered some sort of damage.”
However, he said the fact there had been such good summer and early spring rains meant farmers would still approach the season with confidence.
“If we didn’t have that good subsoil moisture and we were dry sowing now, people would have a different mentality about their prospects, but the moisture means there is more confidence about the later sowing date.”
He said, with hot weather continuing until the beginning of the week, many farmers were still yet to launch flat out into sowing, because of locust concerns, but it was beginning to ramp up.
In terms of rain needed for germination for crops being sown now, he said it would range from only around 5mm for those in a no-till system on light ground to up to 10mm on heavier ground.
NORTH-EAST, SOUTHERN RIVERINA:
Overall plantings are close to 70pc completed in much of the north-east and the southern Riverina, according to IK Caldwell, Corowa, NSW, agronomist Paul Lavis.
He said remaining crops were being staggered, as farmers with short-season varieties unsuited to early sowing, delayed planting until a more agronomically beneficial date.
“A lot of the big guys have pulled up for a few days, while your smaller mixed farmers haven’t done as much and are going now.”
Mr Lavis said conditions had dried out on the back of warm weather last weekend and early this week.
“It is still damp around Corowa, but you only have to drive 20 minutes north or west and it is back to being dry, where crops will need a rain to bring them up.”
He said early sown canola had already emerged, but another 10mm before soil temperatures cooled off would significantly boost growth.
“The crop will live without rain for a bit, we saw that last year, but it would be nice to get a fall soon just to kick them along.”
Growers in the region were lucky not to be majorly impacted by locusts.
Overall, he said farmers were generally well in front of schedule with their cropping.
“We’ve had good early moisture, and the big gear these days mean people are able to get across big acreages quickly, that was why we saw a few blokes pulling up for a week, just to wait until it was the right time for later crops.”
The Western District is enjoying a rolled-gold start to the season, with minor problems with slugs the only issue said Agvise, Inverleigh, agronomist Justin Alexander.
Mr Alexander said farmers had relished the early break and had got most of the canola and winter, or red, wheats in already.
While the north of the state has not had significant rainfall since mid-April, southern zones have picked up several weaker small cold fronts, generating small falls.
“We’ve just managed to pick up 5mm here and there, that has kept everything moist,” Mr Alexander said.
He said there were even patches, around Skipton and Derrinallum, where there were heavy summer rains, where things were slightly damper than optimum.
“Perhaps some blokes in conventional systems may be struggling to get through sticky paddocks at the moment.”
Planting is going full steam ahead at the moment, with Mr Alexander saying that generally croppers were switching over from early crops to white wheats and barley.
He said canola was emerging, while winter wheats and pastures were also up.
“We’re probably just shy of a third of the way through the sowing season and so far, things are going really well.”
Elders Kaniva manager Bruce McFarlane said sowing had slowed down as concerns about the dry mounted.
“Most clients have eased up a little as they wait for some more rain.
“We’re in that sticky situation now, where it may just be moist enough to germinate crops, but not wet enough to keep them going.
“The top-soil has dried out, but there is just a little moisture in the top five or six centimetres, which makes it awkward.
“Generally, we’re seeing people just working office hours, rather than right through the night – they’d be happy to plant totally dry, but there is a concern with a little moisture about.”
Mr McFarlane said farmers had already planted canola, faba beans and vetch, with a few more beans to go, before the focus switched to cereals.
He said so far, it was only early vetch crops that had emerged.
“We’d like a rain soon, between 12.5 and 25mm would be great, but probably closer to 25mm,” he said.
Although not a huge issue at present, he said there had been many sightings of locusts in the west Wimmera, enough to create the need for some isolated control sprays.
“They haven’t done much now, but we are worried about issues in the spring.”
However, the mood is still reasonably positive.
“We had good rain through early April and a fair bit of summer rain, so there is a bit of moisture there that the crops can access.”
He said the plant was around a quarter of the way through, and he expected farmers to quietly chip away at it, until there was a rain, which would spark more extensive plantings.