Rain helps late-planted sorghum, boosts winter-crop hopes

Neil Lyon March 18, 2019

Storms like this one at Gatton on Thursday night heralded a series of rain events for some Queensland and New South Wales cropping areas. Photo: Murray Fox Photography

RAIN ACROSS the main summer-cropping areas of New South Wales and Queensland will help yields in later-planted sorghum, and has opened the subsoil moisture account for paddocks in the lead-up to winter-crop planting.

The falls extended into parts of the NSW tablelands and inner slopes, where some early grain-and-grazing crops like oats and winter wheat can now be planted.

The rain will also enable planting of some dual-purpose and cash crops in Queensland.

Help for sorghum

In Central Queensland, CQAg Services manager and senior agronomist Darren Young said patchy falls of 40-80 millimetres and up to 150mm in pockets throughout the Capella, Dysart, Emerald and Middlemount districts would allow some fallow country to be planted by early April.

“Some early wheat and chickpeas can go in on this, but further north around Clermont, Kilcummin and Mt McLaren, they still need a fair bit more rain before they will think about planting,” Mr Young said.

Nearly all CQ’s cotton has been picked, but the limited area of sorghum which was planted will benefit from the rain.

“This will be good for the sorghum that got planted in late January and early February, and will be harvested in early May.

“What the rain has done is give us a bit of confidence now for the winter.”

At Springsure, Landmark manager Ben Marshall said 15-100mm fell in the wider district in its first rain in months.

“No sorghum got planted — no summer crop at all — in most places because we didn’t get planting rain in time,” Mr Marshall said.

That means the rain will go into fallowed country ready for winter crop, which Mr Marshall said some growers could start planting if they get another modest fall in coming weeks.

“Some paddocks need another 100mm of rain, but some don’t need much now.”

CQ rainfall registrations for the week to 9am today include 44mm at Clermont, 75mm at Emerald, 67mm at Springsure, and on the NSW border, Goondiwindi received more than 100mm, but mostly in or near town.

Northern NSW benefits

In NSW, inland falls were highest in the state’s north west.

Registrations for the week to 9am today included 32mm at Coonabarabran, 16mm at Coonamble, 28mm at Moree, 35mm at Mungindi and Narrabri and 33mm at Nyngan.

Some pockets north and east of Moree got 60-70mm, but anywhere south of Narrabri generally got much less, with Dubbo and Parkes receiving 5mm, Manildra and Tamworth 16mm, and Gunnedah 13mm.

While good rain fell on much of the NSW southern tablelands, barely a drop fell south or west of Forbes.

AMPS Moree head agronomist Tony Lockrey said most growers in the district received 15-30mm, and 60-70mm in patches, which would bolster yields in the small amount of late-planted sorghum.

“What it has done is settled the dust. We’ve had between 13 and 15 dust storms over the summer.”

Mr Lockrey said the rain had prompted growers to formulate their nutrition strategy and consider their rotation options for the winter crop they hoped to plant from mid-April on the inner slopes, and late April on the plains.

“We really need another 150mm to get us in the game for a winter crop, and 100mm plus would be enough to get growers considering what they’ll plant,” he said.

A lack of planting rain last autumn meant large tracts of the northwest plains of NSW were not planted to winter crops in 2018, and many crops which were planted yielded poorly because of minimal in-crop rain.

That has left a bank of nitrogen in the soil for this year’s winter-crop to access.

Mr Lockrey said growers were now looking at supplementing that with pre-plant nitrogen.

“If growers haven’t put nitrogen down yet, this rain might be the incentive for them to do it now, and for us to make realistic yield targets based on moisture.

“For wheat in areas east of Moree, that might be 3 tonnes per hectares instead of 4t, and 2t/ha instead of 3t, with room to improve if we get the rain.”

Mr Lockrey said growers who dry-sowed wheat into heavy soils last year were not likely to do it again in 2019.

“We found out last year that dry sowing into partial moisture doesn’t work.”

Mr Lockrey said chickpeas at $600/t were still an attractive rotation option, as they could be planted into June, and into subsoil moisture.

“Faba beans and canola are looking unlikely because they like to be planted early, and into full moisture, which means chickpeas are looking more likely as the rotation crop to keep us away from crown rot in following cereals.”

First falls for Downs

On the Darling Downs, Bongeen grower John Cameron said rain between Friday and yesterday was the first seen since before Christmas.

“We had 40-70mm across the farm,” Mr Cameron said.

“It was very welcome, even if we were about to start picking the cotton that had grown all season without any rain.

“That’s a farmer’s life.”

Mr Cameron said the district has an annual average rainfall of 600-625mm.

“In the long term, we would expect 350mm over the summer, and this is the first rain we’ve had this year.

“We need a lot more before we can think about planting a winter crop.”

Mr Cameron said the extremely hot and dry summer meant the Downs sorghum crop, nearly all of which has now been harvested, “only just made it”.

“We’re all gun-shy about planting a winter crop if we don’t have adequate moisture, and unless you got a lot of rain, it won’t do much for the subsoil.”

Many farms on the Downs have had 40-50mm of rain since Friday.

While some missed out, some localities including Jondaryan recorded 150mm, while Dalby had 44mm, Jandowae had 68mm and Macalister had 73mm.

The Western Downs and Maranoa also recorded some handy falls, with 56mm at Drillham, 79mm at Miles and 28mm at Roma, and some heavy rain in and around Goondiwindi.

Cotton picking is not expected to be in full swing on the Darling Downs and areas south for at least another fortnight.

Little on Liverpool Plains

Pursehouse Rural Gunnedah agronomist John Nott said nearly all of the region’s sorghum crops had been harvested, or sprayed out prior to harvest, and therefore would not benefit from the limited falls of 5-15mm it received.

“Some growers made the decision three weeks ago to cut sorghum crops for hay if they weren’t going to yield much, down to around 1t/ha.”

Mr Nott said some growers would prepare to plant winter crops if they received 100mm of rain.

“Most people need more than that. The Liverpool Plains has been doing it tough for more than 12 months.”


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