Bumper sorghum harvest kicks off on Downs

Liz Wells, January 12, 2022

A thriving crop of sorghum photographed on Boxing Day on the Western Downs which should be harvested by early February. Photo: Angus Dalgliesh

THE biggest sorghum harvest seen in years has kicked off in southern Queensland this week, with volume set to ramp up in coming weeks as the early-planted crop dries down, weather permitting.

ABARES Australian Crop Report December 2021 puts the Queensland crop to be harvested in coming months at 1.4 million tonnes (Mt) from 425,000 hectares, up 12 per cent on last year’s area and 39pc on last year’s production.

In New South Wales, production is forecast at 576,000t from 160,000ha, up 23pc and 17pc respectively on last year’s crop.

The Central Queensland (CQ) crop is now being planted in its normal window, and if its growing season is as kind as the one that southern Queensland and northern NSW have enjoyed to date, it could see Australia harvesting more than 2 million tonnes of sorghum over coming months.

Exports of 1.5Mt likely

Lachstock Consulting’s latest sorghum supply-and-demand report issued December 23 puts Australia’s 2022-23 (Feb-Jan) sorghum crop at 2.3Mt, and exports at 1.8Mt.

That makes it Australia’s biggest sorghum crop since 2.5Mt in 2015-16, and puts exports above the 1.5Mt shipped in 2021-22, with China the home for around 1.2Mt of Australia’s current crop.

China is expected to continue as the volume customer, and shipping stems indicate several cargoes of new-crop sorghum have been booked for shipment from March.

The price spread between sorghum and feed/SFW wheat is dramatically favouring wheat being fed in the rations,”

“Australia remains very competitive in the export space compared to USA origin,” the Lachstock report said.

“We will do our share to Japan again and then the rest of the pressure will be on China to clean up the Aussie crop.”

Downs prospects rosy

AgForce grains president Brendan Taylor said the southern Queensland crop was shaping up to be the biggest in years, with a handful of August-planted crops already harvested.

“Some September-planted sorghum is a fortnight away from harvest, and the October-planted crop is filling now for a late February harvest.

“It’s the later plant again that’s benefited most from the wet November we had, and it’s looking sensational.”

While pockets of the Downs have had one or two good crops in the past decade, Mr Taylor said this was the first year in many where yield potential was high “from one end to the other.”

“I’d be surprised if 6-7t per hectare wasn’t common.”

Many Downs growers, Mr Taylor included, are out-turning barley and wheat grown last year in order to prepare on-farm storages for sorghum.

Bids for new-crop sorghum are currently sitting at around $290-$300/t delivered Downs depot.

“That’s a solid price,” Mr Taylor said.

Many consumers in the domestic stockfeed market are currently using downgraded wheat at maximum inclusion, while sorghum is pricing into bulk and containerised export markets.

NSW crop looks for rain

Hunt Ag Solutions agronomist Jim Hunt said the Liverpool Plains crop will be harvested from late February through to April or May.

“There’s been a slow start,” Mr Hunt said.

“We put a lot of early sorghum in and then it had a lot of rain on it, but it came through.

“The crops are looking fairly handy and there’s been a bit of later sowing gone on, but most people have pulled up now.”

Mr Hunt said an average yield of 5t/ha seemed likely, but rain would be needed soon to preserve that.

“The heat’s been pretty intense lately, so we need rain soon because the crop is starting to chew through the moisture profile.”

At Narrabri on the north-west plains, Nutrien Ag Solutions agronomist Dylan Verrer said the earliest sorghum crops would be sprayed out by Australia Day ahead of harvest in early February.

“The soil moisture has been exhausted in any sorghum with a head out, and the majority of the crop would be fairly dry,” Mr Verrer said.

He estimates around three-quarters of the district’s crop was planted on time in September, and is too far advanced to benefit from any rain from here on in.

“It’s done all it’s going to do in terms of yield.”

The balance of the crop has been double-cropped after the winter harvest, and Mr Verrer said much of what was planted in November and up to Christmas would benefit from 75-100 millimetres of rain in coming weeks.

At Croppa Creek, north-east of Moree, McGregor Gourlay agronomist Iain MacLennan said the earliest-planted crops would be sprayed out next week.

“Early-planted sorghum is looking fantastic, and we’re expecting an early to mid-February harvest.”

Those crops were sown in September, and Mr MacLennan said yields of 4-5t/ha could be expected.

He said later-planted crops would benefit from 25mm of rain.

“It’s warmed up significantly now, and rain would help the last tillers coming through.”

CQ planting in full swing

Nutrien Ag Solutions Emerald senior agronomist Darren Young said sorghum planting was in full swing in CQ at present.

“We’ve got a bit of a mixed bag; some growers planted a little bit around Christmas-New Year south of Emerald, Capella and Clermont are planting now, and then it’s about to kick off in Dysart.”

Mr Young said “tremendous rain” had fallen over most growing regions in CQ in November-December ahead of January-February as the ideal planting window.

Given the good and timely start to the CQ plant, Mr Young said yields of 3-3.5t/ha “would be a good start”.

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