MOSTLY favourable seasonal conditions across the Australian grainbelt point to a lift in ABARES’ estimates for the nation’s wheat, barley and canola crops in its next quarterly Australian Crop Report due for release next Tuesday.
The impact of prolonged waterlogging on some parts of New South Wales and southern Queensland appears to be the big wildcard.
Following successive rain events throughout August, disease pressure being seen in every state could also impact yield in some areas.
However, diligent spraying of fungicide to counter rust in cereals and blackleg and sclerotinia in canola appears to have most crops in good stead ahead of spring, which arrives tomorrow.
Sources report aerial contractors have been in demand to spread urea where ground access has been impossible because of boggy conditions, and are now being called upon to spray fungicide.
In Western Australia, planes are also being deployed to drop mouse bait as rodent numbers pick up in some districts.
While some crops in NSW and southern Queensland are underfertilised because growers have not been able to get sufficient urea on by ground or air, crops are generally well fed.
Based on estimates from other forecasters issued since ABARES released its previous estimates in June, standing numbers from the national forecaster are thought to have only upside.
Table 1: Estimates in million tonnes as released by ABARES in its June crop report, and August estimates for Australian Crop Forecasters, IKON Commodities, USDA and Lachstock Consulting.
AgForce grains president and Western Downs grower Brendan Taylor said while Central Queensland (CQ) crops are looking “very good” ahead of an expected start to harvest next month, southern Queensland is mixed.
“Southern Queensland was largely a lot later planting than we’d like,” Mr Taylor said.
“The early barley and wheat that survived the wet start looks sensational, and then we had a gap of 6-8 weeks between plantings.
“Later crops are certainly subject to some yield penalties based purely on their planting date, and some are well and truly above average, particularly in CQ.”
Mr Taylor said aerial application of urea initially and now fungicide is taking place because ground access has been impossible in the face of ongoing boggy conditions.
“Planes have been very busy.”
He said rusts in cereals were prevalent, and a wet start to spring would make disease control difficult.
“Everyone’s concern is what the weather holds for the next six weeks.”
New South Wales
Riverina Independent Agronomy principal Neil Durning said yield potential varies widely across southern and central NSW.
He said inner slopes crops could well match last year’s record yields, with the best performers making 4t/ha for canola and 7t/ha for wheat.
However, waterlogged crops on low-lying areas could struggle to get half that.
“Our free-drained country from Junee down to Henty is going really well,” Mr Durning said.
“As you get further south, it gets better and better.”
“Wherever you get drainage, you’ll get some screamers, and they could be on track with last year if we have that long, soft spring.”
However, strips of the outer slopes and plains have had successive heavy rains, and even some crops in the lighter red country in the West Wyalong and Condobolin districts are suffering from wet feet.
Mr Durning said waterlogging rather than frost looked like being the yield limiter, and growers needed to keep on top of disease.
“Stripe rust is coming really hard on wheat.”
Most growers have applied one fungicide spray, and intend to apply another.
“Our southern guys are trying to get fungicide on for sclerotinia and for upper-canopy blackleg in canola.
“We’ve got most of ours on by ground, and we’re tracking pretty well for nitrogen.”
Mr Durning said sunny mild days were needed to allow the crop to reach its potential.
“The crop will be late for sure.”
Mr Durning said wet conditions out west meant plains crops were liking to mature at around the same time as slopes ones this year.
“Our canola will be windrowed in the first or second week of November, and we won’t see western areas come in early like they normally do.”
“We’re going into September with a full profile; it’s that photothermal quotient we need.”
In northern NSW, Delta Ag Moree agronomist Leigh Norton said disease is rearing its head, and fungicide is now being sprayed on crops which had a break of around four weeks in planting dates because of wet conditions.
Early crops generally are in good condition, and late crops are mixed.
“There’s a lot of stripe rust coming in; all the early crops have built the level up.”
Mr Norton said the harvest of faba beans and most of the barley, as well as canola and early wheat will kick off around the second week of October.
“Canola looks fantastic.”
Mr Norton said chickpeas were just about out of the equation this year, largely because of their dismal price prospects.
“I’d be looking at 30 paddocks normally; now it’s one or two.”
Waterlogging has had the biggest impact in the Central West, where some growers only managed to plant a small amount of their intended winter-crop area.
S&D Consulting agronomist Kate Stuchbery is based at Donald, and said Victorian crops were mostly well placed for the arrival of spring, and had above-average yield potential.
Most parts of the Wimmera and Mallee have had 10-40 millimetres this month and, apart from some localised hail damage in the past week, crops are looking good.
“It’s a good thing to have rain in August.”
However, showery weather means stripe rust has started to develop in wheat, and upper canopy disease is of concern in canola.
“Growers are still doing a fair bit of ground application to keep on top of infections.”
She said the spreading of urea has been “a little bit challenging”, and some crops are underfed due to supply issues.
“A lot of people haven’t been able to get the amount of urea they wanted, and some people have had some out early and not been able to get the second lot on.”
Provided September and October are not excessively cold and wet, Victoria’s harvest is on track to start in the Mallee in late October or early November.
After a late and patchy start to planting in some districts, Pinion Advisory agribusiness consultant Rebekah Starick said mostly light and consecutive rain events have most SA crops set up well for spring.
“A lot of the gaps have been filled in now, and the forecasts are all pretty positive,” Ms Starick said.
“Knowing frost is always a big concern, no-one’s ready to get too excited about the season just yet, but we’re quietly confident.
“We’re hoping that we do get that softer spring.”
Some SA crops are already in head, and Ms Starick said yield prospects will consolidate in the next 4-6 weeks in most regions.
Harvest will start in the Upper Eyre Peninsula (EP), where potential for above-average yields is high.
“They had an early start with lots of subsoil moisture from those storms in summer.”
Some southern reaches of the SA grainbelt are too wet to allow ground access, and Ms Starick said aerial contractors were being used to fly on urea for canola in particular.
“The EP has a backlog in orders to get planes on.”
Agrarian Management principal Ashley Herbert said WA crops are on track for above-average yields following a “fantastically wet” August.
The wet conditions have also increased the incidence of disease, and the advanced state of crops coupled with boggy conditions in some areas has prompted a swing out of ground application.
“There’s real bottlenecks with aerial applications.
“Aerial sprayers are flat strap, and confounding that are pockets where there’s potential of mice plagues.”
“It’s by no means disastrous yet.”
Rising mouse populations mean growers are calling on aerial contractors to drop baited grain as well as apply fungicides.
Helped by a healthy supply chain for urea, Mr Herbert said most of his clients have been able to feed their crops to optimal levels.
“In February, plans were to modify back on fertiliser input because of its high price, but with good seasonal conditions, and with price signals for grain being strong, they’ve put more on they first thought they would.”
From here on in, frost risk starts to escalate in the eastern Wheatbelt as crops come into head.
WA’s harvest is expected to be under way by early October in the Geraldton zone.
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