Northern wheat planting gathers pace after rain

Liz Wells, June 17, 2022

The Wise family at Bowenville on the Darling Downs resumed sowing of this week after a lengthy rain-enforced delay. Photo: Lance Wise

SOWING of winter crops has resumed in north-west New South Wales and southern Queensland following a rain-enforced delay which will push the close of the cereal-planting window out to mid-July, roughly one month later than normal.

While some growers will hold area over for summer crops, particularly sorghum and dryland cotton, many are planting or replanting wheat, sometimes against agronomic advice.

Low prices for chickpeas, traditionally northern NSW’s biggest rotational crop, are expected to at least halve the pulse’s area compared with last year, which is prompting a bigger cereal-on-cereal plant than is normally seen.

Agronomists also report a big swing into canola and faba beans, nearly all planted and established prior to the mid-planting deluge which dumped around 75-125 millimetres on paddocks last month.

Delay heightens disease risk

At Moree, B&W Rural agronomist Chris Maunder said field work has resumed for many growers this week, with herbicide being sprayed on early-planted crops, and resowing or sowing of wheat now going at pace.

“It depends where they’re located and how much floodwater they had, but quite a few got started again this week,” Mr Maunder said.

“I think we’ll see cereals go through to mid-July.”

Mr Maunder said the Moree district’s chickpea area could be down by as much as 70 per cent on last year in response to the lacklustre price outlook for chickpeas.

“There’s a huge swing out of them, and more canola and more fabas gone in.

“There’s also a big swing to sorghum and dryland cotton, and a few spring mungbeans, and durum area seems to be going up.”

Mr Maunder said an increase in new growers for canola in the district has been seen this year, and urea orders are now being placed to top-dress established crops.

Agronomists including Mr Maunder said some growers have planted wheat on wheat, which brings with it disease risks that will need to be monitored.

“A lot of growers have wheat on wheat, particularly because of the chickpea price being pretty ordinary, and with late-plant cereal on cereal , you are running a risk with crown rot.”

Crown rot could bite into yield if late-planted wheat and durum hits a hot and dry finish.

Summer crops in sights

At Goondiwindi, Nutrien Ag Solutions agronomist Andrew MacPherson said heavy stubble on the ground from the 2021-22 winter crop was slowing down the drying process, but field activity was resuming.

“We’ve got some blokes that have sowed and are in the process of resowing, but it’s still too wet for some,” Mr MacPherson.

“We were getting right into wheat planting when we got the big heavy rain, and anything just out of the ground has really struggled.

“There’s been some spraying out and replanting, and there might be a little bit more durum go in because it’s getting late.”

“Quicker-maturing wheat varieties have sold out, and we are seeing a swing towards barley.”

Mr MacPherson said sorghum seed is expected to be in limited supply, and along with dryland cotton, minor summer crops like mungbeans and sunflowers were being considered.

“They’re good options to turn to if you can’t plant major crops.”

He said the planting window for winter crops closes in mid-July, and growers could be planting early summer crops from mid-August, when ground will hopefully have dried out enough to enable planting.

At Walgett, Outlook Ag director Greg Rummery said some growers were able to resume planting this or last week, and the rest are expected to restart next week.

“Some people are finished now; most are well over halfway, and were maybe 70pc done when the wash-up turned up,” Mr Rummery said.

Mr Rummery said Namoi and Barwon flood-out country has been the most heavily impacted by the rain, while country north of Walgett has fared the best.

He said the amount of replanting required has varied hugely between farms from 10-20pc of wheat area to 50-80pc in others.

“There is some country that won’t get sown.

“A little bit of country will be fallowed through to summer crop, and largely in the eastern part of the Walgett district.”

Mr Rummery said some bumper results from sorghum and cotton grown over last summer are buoying ideas about planting the next summer crop in coming months.

Seed in short supply

Mr Rummery said durum and barley could well wriggle into the cereal mix if suitable wheat varieties cannot be found.

“We’ve worked as hard as we can to get quick varieties; we’ve probably exhausted those supplies.

“Lancer’s been our go-to for planting from Anzac Day to May 10-15; it’s too late for Lancer now.”

Mr Rummery said shorter-season varieties such as Hellfire and Spitfire were now being sought.

Reports from the market for wheat indicate that growers are paying a premium of more than $100 per tonne above the cash market for wheat to secure seed supplies, with some trades occurring at $750-$750/t ex farm.

At Priag in Narrabri, grain marketer Jess Schwager said durum for seed has been changing hands at up to $800/t as it is better suited to the shorter growing season, as is barley.

“I do see a bit of a trend that people are considering barley if we can get a good run at planting over the next two weeks,” Ms Schwager said.

“If there’s another shower in the next two or three weeks, that will put people into summer crop.”

“Lancer is the prominent variety…in northern NSW, and that window shut as the rain was coming, so there’s not as much seed available for later varieties.”

Ms Schwager said the feeling was that any crops sown a week or more before the May rain have survived, but a lot of the wheat sown closer to the rain has had to be sprayed out and replanted.

AGT’s northern NSW marketing and production manager Douglas Lush said shortage of supply of shorter-season wheat was of concern this season.

“Our affiliates sold out of seed supplies of main-season varieties a couple of weeks ago,” Mr Lush said.

“This set up a great situation for growers to capitalise on any seed they had left over and opportunities for seed sharing.

“Unfortunately, there is a lack of quality seed kept on farm, which has prompted the demand for seed from the seed companies.

“Therefore, it has been difficult to source quantities of seed through seed-sharing opportunities as well.”

Quality of seed sourced at the last minute could be questionable, and could impact yield prospects, primarily through less-than-ideal germination and establishment.

AGT’s Seed Sharing platform allows the legal trade of its varieties between growers for use as seed, with the aim that any grain delivered at the end of the season is correctly declared so royalties can be collected to provide a return on investment to the seed company.

Growers are reminded that under license agreements, Clearfield wheat and barley varieties are not able to be traded over the fence through seed sharing.

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