Forecast threatens already beleaguered NSW crops

Liz Wells, August 11, 2022

Wet conditions have impacted yield potential of low-lying crops in many parts of NSW following a wet winter. Photo: Michael McCormack MP

MOST growers are hoping a front now moving east across New South Wales will bring rainfall amounts on the low side of expectations to ease pressure on crops which have endured a late start and a sodden winter.

Crops in an area from roughly Gilgandra to Forbes and West Wyalong, and in parts of northern NSW too, appear to be most at risk if the front brings any more than about 10 millimetres of rain to saturated catchments.

Concerns are also mounting about the possibility of flooding, as major storages including Wyangala Dam on the Lachlan River start spilling to make way for inflows, putting more pressure on already full tributaries.

Many growers in central and northern NSW were unable to finish planting their intended winter-crop area, and have plans to plant their fallow to summer crop.

In northern NSW, activity is expected to kick off next month with sorghum, but substantial rain in already wet areas could delay the kick-off of that program too.

Central West braces

Parkes-based agronomist Peter Yelland said he estimated his area, a major producer of canola, is around 60pc planted.

“Anything planted in the first half of April looks pretty good, but the rest is late; it’s very patchy, it’s wet, and it’s poorly nourished,” Mr Yelland said.

“I think the area of the canola is about half of what the intention was.”

He said some growers have as little as 25pc of intended winter-crop area planted.

“NSW isn’t going to produce the grain that’s forecast.

“If this year produces even the average, it will be a good result.”

Growers and agronomists said the most nitrogen-deficient crops are found in low-lying areas, and with concerns about localised flooding in coming weeks, these crops are unlikely to catch up.

Tichborne grower Bruce Watson said most growers in the district, himself included, have planted 50-70pc of intended winter-crop area.

“For some it’s 90pc, and for some it’s 10-20pc,” Mr Watson said.

While Mr Watson’s farm is located well south of the heartland of summer cropping in NSW, he grows mungbeans and sorghum when sufficient subsoil moisture is available, and is hoping to start planting sorghum in late October, conditions permitting.

“We’re trying to do a week’s worth of work in two days, and it’s been like that all winter.”

On top of 13mm in the week to 9am today in the Parkes gauge, and with more than 25mm forecast for tomorrow and Saturday,  Mr Watson is concerned about the impact of surface water as crops head into spring.

“This next one could tip us over the edge.”

Daytime temperatures are too low to prompt disease outbreaks, but growers are on high alert for fungal diseases including sclerotinia in canola and stripe rust in cereals, and are spraying where possible.

AgriWest trainee agronomist Tom Fisher works with growers in the Forbes, Parkes and Peak Hill districts.

“Some growers have 10-15pc in, others have 80-85pc, but no-one’s got 100pc of their original program in,” Mr Fisher said.

“Some crops got in early and are travelling nicely, but some are really struggling, and things are looking pretty yellow.”

Mr Fisher said interest in summer cropping is high as growers, mostly south of Forbes, look to make use of full subsoil profiles.

“Sorghum would be most of our summer-crop area; people are looking for a bit of income from what they couldn’t plant to winter crop.”

Interest in sunflowers is also high, but seed availability looks set to limit its area.

Brighter in north

While plenty of northern NSW paddocks did not get planted because of wet conditions, growers there are mostly seasoned summer, as well as winter, croppers and will start planting sorghum from next month.

Winter crops in northern NSW range from thriving to struggling, depending on time of sowing, soil type and in-crop rainfall.

B&W Rural Moree agronomist Brad Donald said the region’s early, late and resown crops made for “a mixed bag”.

Mr Donald said while chickpeas normally form about 15-20pc of his clients’ winter-crop area, this year they comprise closer to 4-5pc.

“One: there’s no market for them, and two, it’s been so wet,” Mr Donald said.

“Chickpeas hate wet feet and everywhere’s got wet feet.”

“Crops in general are looking for more nitrogen after two big winter crops.”

“Growers are trying to keep up with it, but with the price of urea being so high, availability issues and the rain, crops are under-fertilised.”

However, some fine weather last month allowed growers to top dress and apply herbicide and fungicide.

“Most of the crops look pretty good; early crops have good yield potential, and the later ones will be determined by spring conditions.”

“A large portion of what didn’t get planted is set for summer crop, sorghum to start with, and then into cotton in mid to late October.”

ABOVE: Stephen Gibson’s dog Winston rides out the slippery conditions between Breeza and Carroll.

On the Liverpool Plains, grower Stephen Gibson got all his intended winter-crop area planted in the preferred window, and fungicide is being applied to bread wheat, durum and canola ahead of the incoming rain event.

“This event isn’t going to do much, but it’s the next one that’s supposed to drop 20-40mm, and then the wet spring and summer that’s the worry,” Mr Gibson said.

“There’s already so much water in the catchment, and there’s more coming down out of the hills.”

Quirindi-based agronomist Pete McKenzie said around 85-90pc of the intended Liverpool Plains winter crop was sown, but later than normal due to conditions getting too wet in May.

“Most of the crop went in June-July, and when you look at the solar radiation for the year, it’s way back,” Mr McKenzie said.

He said some crops will be lucky to get any more urea, given already boggy conditions, and the high price of nitrogen.

“That’ll be a yield dragger for some.”

Coonamble grower Henry Moxham said his family operation managed to sow about 95pc of the intended 6700 hectares of winter-crop area including wheat, canola, faba beans and chickpeas, and had to resow 2000ha.

“The late-sown crops have great establishment, and the early sown ones are well advanced, but they are patchy where there was waterlogging,” Mr Moxham said.

Harvest in NSW is expected to start a little later than normal due to the heavy winter, and finish much later than normal because of the drawn-out sowing period.

Mr Moxham said this will be a challenge for contract harvesters and their clients.

“We use contractors in southern NSW, and this year, we’ve got canola that’s one or two months behind theirs.

“Normally we’re into it by the last week in October, but it will be more like mid to late November.”

The Moxhams farm in the Castlereagh River catchment.

“Our profile, like everyone’s, is full, so an inch of rain goes a long way.”





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