Tocumwal corn sets national yield record in mixed season

Emma Alsop, May 13, 2024

Nathan Pate and Daniel Phelan, Tocumwal, with their record-breaking corn crop. Photo: Pioneer Seeds

SOUTHERN New South Wales and Victorian growers are celebrating a high-yielding corn season, culminating in a Riverina grower setting a record with an exceptional irrigated crop.

The stellar season was not shared by southern Queensland growers, whose crops copped significant and widespread fall armyworm damage, resulting in serious consideration being given to corn from rotations.

Tocumwal’s Nathan Pate and farm manager Daniel Phelan broke the previous national corn yield record with a 23.27 tonnes-per-hectare crop.

Pioneer Seeds territory sales manager Eastern Victoria Tim Lovell, who supported the growers alongside AGnVET agronomist James Murray, said the season was ideal for corn.

“This year has been a very, very good year for corn,” Mr Lovell said.

He also praised the work ethic of Mr Phelan who was “passionate about his corn” and keen to constantly improve farming practices.

Mr Lovell said the record crop was planted “reasonably early, about mid to late October” and didn’t sustain any damage from rain that impacted the region in late December.

“It got up and going around the time of the rain events and wasn’t too stressed by it.”

“The guys that planted a bit later….got hit by a massive rain event around Christmas time, and a few crops got a bit stressed then.”

He said summer temperatures were also lower than previous years, which benefited crop growth.

He said corn grows at 10-32 degrees Celsius, and “shuts off” at temperatures above that level.

“We didn’t have the heat stress on our crops that we normally see.

“This year we had temperatures that got slightly over 30 degrees that didn’t do much in terms of damage but it keep the corn consistently maturing and going through growth stages.”

Alongside promoting growth, Mr Lovell said the conditions saw crops “harvested a lot earlier than we have the last couple of years”.

He said many growers, including Mr Pate, commenced harvesting in March which was highly unusual.

Mr Lovell said harvest for later crops was currently under way.

“There will be a couple of guys who are starting to harvest now, and they are taking it off at a higher moisture level and they will mechanically dry it.”

Maize Association of Australia chair and Leeton grower Chris Salafia said yields from across southern NSW and Victoria were a pleasing result for the industry.

“It is a big year and…it has been a good season for maize,” Mr Salafia said.

He said there was also an increase in area with some cotton growers opting to put some hectares to maize.

“A lot of the cotton guys pulled out of cotton because they were having a few disease issues and rotated it out with maize.”

Market pressures

While a boon for individual growers, the high-yielding crop has put pressure on pricing, with demand from premium markets already exceeded.

Robinson Grain Trading general manager Adam Robinson said the industry had “exhausted all the export demand for Australian corn”.

He said Australia’s human-consumption maize has continued to be exported to South Korea, with annual demand remaining steady at around 60,000-70,000t.

“Ultimately, the balance of the crop after exports will have to be consumed in the Australian domestic market,” Mr Robinson said.

He said the domestic feed market would take the excess production, as prices were higher than for the export feed market.

Currently, domestic on-farm prices are around $300-310/t compared to on-farm export rates of approximately $230/t.

Mr Robinson said industry expects the upcoming 2024-25 crop will return to more “normal yields and normal supply”.

“We expect a slightly lower planted area for this current season for planting in August, September and October.”

Queensland crop suffers

On the other end of the scale, growers in southern Qld have begun harvesting, with yields falling short of expectations.

Most of the region’s dryland crops were planted in December, with most bearing the brunt of increased fall armyworm activity.

Growers were also held up by significant rain in March and April which delayed harvest.

Nutrien Ag Solutions Dalby agronomist Ross Pomroy said while yields have been above average, they are “below (where) our expectation would be for the amount of rainfall we have had”.

He said crops were yielding about 7t/ha.

“With the amount of rainfall that we have had and the seasonal conditions, we would expect to be growing well above 8t in a dryland situation,” Mr Pomroy said.

He said FAW was behind the drop in yields of about 10-30pc.

Mr Pomroy said December-planted crops “copped significant damage”, while those planted in January were able to recover during grain fill, despite sustaining vegetative damage.

He said this was mostly likely due to a reduction in temperature which in turn cut FAW populations.

Learnings for future seasons

Mr Pomroy said the increase in FAW activity this season, and the extent of damage, has prompted the industry to consider significant changes in coming seasons.

He said the industry needed to accept that it was “never 100pc controlling them and if the pressure stays and maintains high throughout the crop, we will incur significant damage”.

“We will change our rotations.

“We will not be able to provide an economical crop by having to spray this many times.

“We are going to have to change rotations for corn, especially for late corn, and even reassess whether it should be done at all.”

Mr Pomroy said mungbeans, sunflowers and sorghum were all possible alternatives, but none were ideal replacements for corn.

In its March Crop Report, ABARES estimates Australia’s 2023-24 corn crop to reach 379,000t from 49,700ha.

This is a drop from 2022-23 production of 411,000t from 52,000ha.

However, tonnages could be revised up as the forecast may not have taken into account the higher yields achieved from positive season conditions near harvest for parts of NSW and Victoria.


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  1. Couldn’t be more proud for their achievement

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