Depending in which part of the country you reside, the winter-crop planting/seeding/sowing season is well under way.
However, the moisture profile is certainly quite variable, and rainfall totals across the continent for the first two months of the southern April-November wet season have largely disappointed.
If we look “around the grounds”, Victoria has undoubtedly had the best start this season. Many growers can’t believe their luck — record yields last season and ideal conditions to start this season. This has led to an increase in the canola area, which has gone in on time and into very good moisture. The wheat and barley programs are progressing extremely well and will be all but completed by month’s end.
At the other end of the spectrum, Western Australia has had a very mixed season to date. The Esperance zone and some parts of the Albany zone have fared reasonably well. Some coastal areas have received as much as 100mm of rain since the beginning of April, but most have received less than 50mm. The Geraldton zone and most of the Kwinana zone are quite dry, with most growers receiving less than 25mm of rainfall in the same period.
This has led to a substantial change to planting intentions, with the expected increase in canola area snuffed out by the lack of timely rainfall in the key canola regions, with the planting window now closed. This means that the areas planted to the major grains — wheat, barley and canola — will most likely be quite similar to last year.
The dry story continues as we move east across the Nullarbor Plain to the Eyre Peninsula (EP) in South Australia. Parts of the lower EP have recorded less than 25mm of rain in the past two months. The rest of the SA cropping regions have fared a little better since the beginning of April. Subsoil moisture levels are quite good as a result of the late 2016 rainfall, which seriously disrupted the SA harvest. The challenge is receiving enough rain to join up the two moisture layers so the balance of the crop can be planted.
As usual, the Newell Highway forms the demarcation line between the good (east) and the not-so-good (west) in NSW. Recent rainfall events have filled in most of the moisture deficit areas west of the Newell and south of the Lachlan River. This has allowed the winter-crop planting program to move close to completion through much of the southern half of the state.
However, the rainfall has been less general north of the Lachlan. There are pockets west of the Newell that are in good shape, but there are also substantial pockets in the north-west of the state that have serious moisture deficit issues and planting has stopped completely, or not even commenced in some areas, as a result.
For the second year running, all the talk in this part of the world is chickpeas. Many areas have reasonable subsoil moisture and some growers are sowing chickpeas as deep as 200mm instead of waiting for the next rain event. With soil temperatures above average, the chickpeas strikes have been excellent and once they establish the tap-root system, will follow the moisture down as the season progresses.
Cereal planting in northern NSW and south-western Queensland has all but ceased, with growers reaching their limit on dry-sown area and waiting for the next rain event to sow the balance. Other parts of southern Queensland are in better shape, although certainly not perfect. The remnants of Cyclone Debbie provided most of the Darling Downs with a good drink in late March and growers have been doing their best to tap into that moisture as falls since have been minimal.
Like Victoria, Central Queensland is looking fantastic. Most of the wheat and chickpea crops are in, up and progressing extremely well. Temperatures have been above average, which has pushed the crop along nicely. All going well, the first harvest will kick off in late August or early September in the Burdekin region, with chickpeas the first cab off the rank.
The potential is certainly still there for an average to above-average season in Australia this year, but the less-than-optimistic long-range forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology has certainly seen growers reluctant to engage the market in both the old-crop and new-crop space until the rain returns to the plains.