A combination of extreme dry weather and damaging frost will deliver Australia its smallest winter crop in 10 years, according to Rabobank in its just-released Winter Crop Production Outlook.
“For vast regions of the eastern states, there will be no harvest, and where there is a harvest, yields will be anywhere between 30 per cent and 50 per cent down on average,” report co-author, Rabobank agricultural analyst Wes Lefroy said.
“Victoria’s overall grain production has been the victim of inconsistent rainfall as well as severe frost during the past six weeks which has downgraded prospects,” Mr Lefroy said.
This year’s Grain Industry Association Victoria Crop Tour of Victoria and the NSW Riverina witnessed crops growing on a myriad of systems, moisture levels, disease and frost scenarios.
Paddocks visited were randomly selected on a route from Bendigo to the Mallee and returning back through the Wimmera.
In that area the best yield predictions for barley were a crop south of Horsham of 3.5 tonnes a hectare, a 3.2t/ha barley crop near Patchewollock and a wheat crop of 2.2t/ha at Toolondo.
Agriculture Victoria Seasonal Risk Agronomist, Dale Boyd, said the tour reinforced and validated the work of the Soil Moisture Monitoring project which provided real time soil water content data on a range of farms throughout mainly northern Victoria.
Mr Boyd said the general impression of the tour results was the best predicted yield results were for cereals grown following a good fallow with a good profile of moisture at sowing.
Cereal on cereal crops had a lower yield expectation. Crops following pulses also entered the season better than cereal/cereal, but were not quite as good as the crops on fallow.
“There were certainly crop failures that were related to soil type and lower decile rainfall,” he said.
He said the 3.2t/ha crop of barley at Patchewollock was sown into a fallow paddock.
“That area had a wet spring in 2016 and that moisture carried over to 2017. With no crop sown in 2017 the 2018 crop would have been sown into a full moisture profile,” Mr Dale said.
Compared to 2017, when there was a timely break and excellent August, this year there was no break, cold conditions, frost events and little rain during August and September – a critical stage, he said.
Mr Boyd said the crop tour included paddocks that were close to the monitoring sites which provided more detailed information on soil moisture status and how the season had been played out.
Understanding soil moisture and then monitoring to ensure best decisions made regarding crop inputs and management decisions was critical.
“That moisture can be from out-of-season rainfall and moisture carryover,” he said.
“It appears barley is doing better than wheat. That could be a combination of sowing and flowering dates giving those crops the ability to tolerate dry conditions better,” he said.
“Some wheat crops were compromised through the dry conditions and frost damage.
Mr Boyd said this season north of the divide differed from 2017 with no crops having a huge biomass.
“Without a large biomass, water use has been appropriate for the season – a lighter canopy means the crop is growing to the conditions,” he said.
Recent rains could have an influence on grain quality, while further rain could assist with grain size.
“Rain in the past couple of weeks and temperatures that weren’t too high have provided a soft, cool finish to the season,” he said.
Mr Boyd said decisions about cutting for hay or taking through to grain had already been made.
While a number of crops were cut, in many cases there was not the biomass available to warrant cutting crops for hay.
Mr Boyd said the SMM probe network comprised 16 paddocks that assessed seasonal conditions to update the industry.
The network recorded soil water content at one source point from 30cm down to one metre as a reference point for a paddock.