SUBSTANTIAL rain over most parts of the Western Australian grainbelt has kept estimates for mainland Australia’s barley production at around 10 million tonnes (Mt) based on the latest average from four national forecasters.
Crops in parts of the grainbelt are seen as having average to above-average yield potential, but could do with a drink as spring approaches.
Nearly all barley crops in Queensland, and some in South Australia and pockets of WA are in urgent need of substantial rain in the next week or two to preserve their production outlooks.
Table 1: Latest estimates in tonnes for the crop currently in the ground from: ABARES; Australian Crop Forecasters; IKON Commodities, and Lachstock Consulting.
AgForce grains president and Western Downs grower Brendan Taylor said conditions were patchy in all Queensland barley-growing regions.
“It’s hard to make a general statement,” Mr Taylor said.
“Within all the regions, there are crops that didn’t get planted because they didn’t have the rain, some crops that look great, and some that will be okay if they get rain soon.”
While some Queensland crops have jagged up to 40mm of rain in falls this and last month, others have had as little as 5-10mm, and will be sprayed out or grazed by August because their yield prospects are so poor.
“Our drought is far from over.”
New South Wales
Apart from some pockets north of Moree where a drink is badly needed, most of the NSW barley crop is looking at above-average yields, and has sufficient subsoil moisture to get through to spring.
At Lake Cargelligo in the state’s central west, consultant Andrew McFadyen said prospects for barley yields were above average, but variable levels of subsoil moisture mean some crops will need a drink soon to preserve the outlook.
“East of Lake Cargelligo looks good, but crops west of town are getting by hand to mouth.
“We’d love to see a big fall of rain in the next three to four weeks to cash in on a great start, because heat and wind in August and September can definitely take the shine off things.”
“Barley has loved the season; it’s growing very vigorously and quickly, crops are 7-14 days ahead of where they would normally be.
“There’s good upside for yield potential.”
Mr McFadyen said the district’s barley area was not impacted by news of the China barley tariffs because many of the crops were already in ahead of the announcement, and can expect to make malting if the end to the season is kind.
Victorian Farmers’ Federation grains group manager Simon McNair said the Victorian winter crop appeared to have potential to exceed the size of the 2016 crop, with above-average yields looking achievable for all winter cereals including barley.
“People are starting to say they could do with a bit of rain in all parts of the state apart from the south-west, where they’re happy to have a bit of dry time.
“All cereals are looking really really good, and I haven’t heard of any problems with early frost damage or disease.”
“If we had the same spring as we had in 2016, we could have an extra 1Mt of winter crop.”
ABARES figures say Victoria grew a record winter crop of 9.5Mt in 2016, well up on its 10-year average to 2019 of 6.6Mt, and the national forecaster currently has the state penciled in for 7.4Mt.
Echuca-based consultant and Think Agri principal Kate Burke said Victoria’s crops were looking good, but rain soon would be gratefully received in most regions.
“Rainfall-wise, north-east and north-central Victoria is going quite well, but over in the Wimmera, rainfall hasn’t been as abundant as it was last year, although they did have good summer rain.
“Some of those guys are getting a little bit nervous, and the Mallee is patchy too.”
Ms Burke said crop management with regard to fertiliser and spray application, on top of spring rainfall, will determine how much of the crop’s yield potential is realised, and that this season was not one to be making generalisations.
“My message for growers is to be adding up your rainfall and subsoil and looking at scenarios going forward.
“If you’re tracking on a decile three rainfall, you need to manage your crop accordingly.
“From now on it’s critical to play your cards, not anyone else’s.”
South Australia’s barley crop is one of contrasts, with the Upper and Eastern Eyre Peninsula and Upper North in dire need of rain in the next week or two to preserve yield potential.
Most other districts are having an average to above-average season.
Key barley areas including the Lower Eyre and Yorke peninsulas, Murray-Mallee and South East will need at least one good rain before the weather starts to warm up to preserve yield prospects.
The Adelaide Plains and Mid North are particularly low on subsoil moisture.
Year-to-date rainfall for most cropping districts west of the Murray-Mallee is up to 100 millimetres below the average, which is of concern now that days are getting longer.
Clare-based Ground Up Agronomy principal Michelle Bammann said many growers were splitting their in-crop fertiliser application rather than putting it all on in one pass.
This reduces the chance of over-feeding crops if follow-up rain is limited.
“The South East is good, and the Adelaide Plains to the Mid North is okay but needs rain soon.
“It’s hanging in there and needs 25mm any day now.”
“The Murray-Mallee is looking good, and so is the lower EP, but the Upper and Eastern EP are terrible.
“We’re literally on a knife edge.”
Most of the WA grainbelt received significant rain over the weekend of 10-30 millimetres, and more in places, but some pockets west of the Albany Highway, and in the central wheatbelt around Cunderdin and Quairading, only caught a few millimetres.
Grains Industry Association of WA (GIWA) Oilseeds Council chair and crop report author, Michael Lamond, said those districts that missed out on substantial falls will neeed rain soon to preserve yield potential.
“The rain in a lot of regions was just in the nick of time.
“Crops are still growing really quickly, they’ve accelerated their development, and they really needed this rain.
“Winter has been so warm that growth rates have been incredible.”
“The crop has a lot of potential, and it’s sucked the profile dry.
“In the north, the season’s quicker, and they’ve now got some moisture under them going into spring.”
The Kwinana and Albany zones were most recently estimated by GIWA to have 550,000 hectares and 700,000ha planted respectively to barley, with Esperance area forecast at 340,000ha and Geraldton just 30,000ha.
While barley and lupin plantings are down in the Geraldton zone due to planting rains arriving in late May and a little later than ideal , Mr Lamond said barley area has not dropped in the Albany port zone.
“They’re feed barley growers, and their barley crops inherently yield more than wheat, so they’ve stuck with barley in their rotations.”
GIWA’s estimate for the state’s barley area sits at 1.62 million hectares, and Mr Lamond said with total rainfall for the date being in decile five, the total crop is looking at average yields.
“There are dry areas on the south coast, and in the central Kwinana zone, so I can’t see us getting above-average yields from here.”
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