Time slips away for wheat planting in dry NW NSW

Liz Wells, July 3, 2023

Large tracts of north-west NSW remain fallow as the end of the planting window for wheat approaches. Photo: Bernie Jackson

LESS than half the intended wheat area has been planted on the north-west plains of New South Wales to date, and hopes for any significant increase are resting on forecasts for rain this week.

The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting up to 25mm of rain up to Thursday, but agronomists say more like 50mm is needed to connect with subsoil moisture reserves built up in last year’s sodden season.

This region, which stretches from Wee Waa in the south to Walgett in the west and Mungindi to the north, is the only Australian winter-cropping region bearing out the bureau’s prediction for a return to El Niño conditions last seen in 2019.

Little in at Walgett

Outlook Ag Walgett-based director Greg Rummery said only around 5-10pc of the district’s intended winter-crop area has gone in to date, and only a portion that was planted into topsoil moisture.

“We need to put a caveat on that 5-10pc, in that the dry-sown area isn’t good,” Mr Rummery said.

“We’ve really given up on ’23.”

“Moisture’s too far down now.”

Mr Rummery said 50mm plus this week would see some cereals planted, and the same by the end of July would see “a reasonable area of chickpeas” go in.

“It’s a pretty bleak outlook; we haven’t had any effective rain since December, and we can’t re-wet the seedbed.”

He said moderate rain into spring would prompt a modest planting of summer crop, but most is expected to remain fallow over summer.

“Most of the country will roll around to winter crop ’24.”

Mr Rummery said 15-25mm would not be enough to spark a widespread cereal plant at the very end of the seeding window in this district where hot and dry conditions can turn up early in spring.

“July is reasonably late for us to plant.”

Patchy around Moree

AMPS Moree-based agronomist Tony Lockrey said crops in some patches on or east of the Newell Highway were in good stead.

“Prior to the last rain we had, I’d say we’d be 55pc planted, of which about half was established,” Mr Lockrey said.

“Those guys that got 20-25mm south-east of Gurley and around Bellata… are the only places in our whole area where topsoil moisture has met up with the subsoil.

“Everyone else is living on a little sugar hit of 6-8mm a week.”

“We’ll be relying on tillering for yield improvement; we’re not hoping for 6 tonnes a hectare, or looking at the average 2.5-3t/ha; these are 1-1.5t/ha crops.”

Mr Lockrey said if the forecast delivers the upper end of the forecast at 30mm or so, some short-season bread wheats like Hellfire will be planted.

“The biggest change would be more double-cropped chickpeas going in after sorghum and dryland cotton.

“They’ll go up to mid-July with quick wheat and barley, knowing they’ll grow it for ground cover and a bit of yield, and they’ll go to the end of July with chickpeas to be in the game if a softer or wetter spring turns up.”

Mr Lockrey said some wheat and barley was yet to germinate.

“Some more chickpeas than planned have gone into wheat stubble because there was a point there was not enough moisture to get anything else going.”

“That was going to be fallowed through to summer crop, but got short-circuited into chickpeas.

“We’ve got very little double crop in.

Mr Lockrey said around 80pc of the district’s canola has been planted into good moisture, and the balance was planted dry or into marginal moisture.

Last chance west of Wee Waa

West of Wee Waa, Coleman Ag agronomist Tim Brooker on Thursday said the front now crossing NSW would be crucial for crop in the ground betweeen Wee Waa and Walgett.

“We’re really banking on next week’s rain, a lot of it’s been sown dry,” Mr Brooker said.

“For the profile to meet up, the maximum amount forecast would be great.”

Mr Brooker said most growers have only managed to plant around one third of intended winter-crop area, and that was “very patchy”.

Established crops include wheat, faba beans, and barley, and Mr Brooker said conditions were mixed, depending on how much rain they have had since planting.

“A lot (of crops) are still coming out of the ground.”

“Growers with poorly germinated fabas might let them return some nitrogen to the soil, and late barley can be grazed off. “

North of Wee Waa to Spring Plains, and to the east, Mr Brooker said the season has had a comparatively better start.


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