Feedgrain Focus: Prices ease despite FAW threat

Liz Wells, February 15, 2024

Sorghum harvest is under way on some Downs farms, where earlier-sown crops appear to have escaped fall armyworm damage. Photo: Phil Hayward, Warra

A SOFTENING in global values has seen eastern Australian feedgrain prices ease in the past week amid subdued demand from export and domestic customers.

Despite yield outlook for later planted crops being under pressure from fall armyworm (FAW), sorghum values also weakened.

In the southern market, activity remains limited, with a few days of extreme heat and storms in parts of Victoria not enough to create noticeable shorts in the delivered market.

Today Feb 8
Barley Downs $375 $383
ASW wheat Downs $370 $388
Sorghum Downs $350 $360
Barley Melbourne $337 $337
ASW wheat Melbourne $355 $365

Table 1: Indicative prices in Australian dollars per tonne.

 FAW pressure intense

Queensland and northern New South Wales are set to harvest a big sorghum area this season, with some growers already into spring-sown crops.

In its most recent sorghum supply-and-demand report released February 1, Lachstock Consulting has estimated the crop at 2.2 million tonnes, up 480,000t from its previous estimate due to beneficial rain since November.

Countering this has been a boom in FAW populations, particularly in later-sown crops were they are profilerating in unusually humid conditions.

In southern Qld and northern NSW, crops sown in September are now being harvested, and yielding roughly 5 tonnes per hectare after a dry start.

With FAW, some later-sown crops are unlikely to realise their yield potential of roughly 6-7t/ha, although spraying of insecticide appears to be controlling larvae in some crops.

The Qld sorghum harvest is expected to peak in late April and while some Central Qld crops in particular will not recover from insect damage, most are expected to yield well.

At Pittsworth, Nutrien agronomist Hugh Reardon-Smith said FAW has been having a bigger impact than previously seen on Downs sorghum.

“It’s affecting crops from the vegetative stage and the grain-filling stage, and it’s caught people by surprise,” Mr Reardon-Smith said.

FAW has been seen in big numbers in maize crops before, but not so much in sorghum south of the tropics.

“We had a late break in November, and that’s suited fall armyworm.”

Until damage from the pest can be contained, growers are reluctant to forward sell big tonnages of sorghum, now in solid demand from the poultry and pig sectors.

South subdued

In Victoria, hot weather and damaging storms have caused short-lived disruptions to grain movements in some locations.

Watson Bulk Logistics managing director Joel Watson said wind gusts have caused some damage to farms and bulk-handling sites in grain-growing areas.

Temperatures in or near 40 degrees Celsius stopped paddock activity due to fire risk, but off-farm grain movements were generally not impeded by the conditions.

“We were able to keep kicking along with our fire management plans in place,” Mr Watson said.

“There is grain moving around, but selling is quite subdued, and so is demand.”

Growers continue to wait for prices to rally before they sell any more grain from last harvest.


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