WIDESPREAD November rainfall and an unseasonably cool spring have downgraded wheat quality across Central West New South Wales this harvest, with some growers also facing the extra pressure of floodwater release from major water storages upstream.
Before the harvest rain, the 2021 winter crop was shaping up to rival the record-breaking 2020 crop thanks to solid winter rainfall.
The canola harvest was all but complete and the wheat harvest had just commenced in the Nyngan, Warren, Trangie and Narromine region before two rain events a week apart swept through the region, impacting grain quality and downgrading deliveries from milling to feed.
The rain was widespread and was followed by days of overcast weather which has caused grain to sprout, and evidence of some fungal disease.
Ag N Vet senior agronomist for the region, James O’Connor, said his clients were generally recording “excellent yields” on their wheat crops this year following the higher-than-average winter rainfall.
He said protein levels varied between growers and were influenced by the crop rotation, given many had shied away from using in-crop fertiliser due to high urea prices.
Mr O’Connor said wheat crops which had followed chickpeas or legumes in a rotation were recording higher protein than those sown “wheat-on-wheat”, but due to the high yields, even those crops put into soil high in pre-crop nitrogen had not produced protein as high as predicted.
“A year like this which has been especially wet, and with an unusually cool spring, is very hard to compare with other years,” he said.
Mr O’Connor said the harvested grain was showing a high test weight this year, with some varieties such as Scepter showing a particularly large grain.
Initially released in 2015, Scepter is better known for its ability to withstand tough seasons where drought stress is an issue, having the ability to maintain yield while also expressing high test weights and low screenings.
“Usually, we can expect there to be the odd very hot day in September and October and we choose our varieties to suit, but this year there still hasn’t been a day over 35 degrees so the finish has been very different.”
Late growth delays harvest
Mr O’Connor said many crops had put up secondary tillers which were as high as the finished wheat, and that made it difficult even for skilled harvesters to manage.
As a result, the start of harvest was later than average, with farmers anxiously waiting for moisture levels to fall below 12.5 per cent while also keeping an eye on the ominous weather forecast.
The effects of the first widespread rainfall in mid-November was being realised at delivery sites last week.
Wheat harvested south and west of Nyngan, where up to 60 millimetres was recorded, was showing weather damage, and consequently being downgraded from H2, APW and ASW into a new Soft Feed Wheat bunker.
Mr O’Connor said it was yet to be seen what the effect of the rain would have on the later sown crops.
A second weather front over the weekend just gone is expected to cause further damage, with news some crops around Warren are also sprouting.
Warren-based independent agronomist David Klaare said most of his clients were less than a week into harvest before the rain interruption, and that with follow-up falls forecast, he expected there to be weather damage right across the region.
Mr Klaare said some growers had noted some mice damage to crops at sowing time but consistent rainfall through the growing season had prevented the predicted spring plague.
“My clients who harvested wheat before the rain have done exceptionally well this year,” Mr Klaare said.
“The yields are through the roof and the protein was around the H2 to ASW.”
“Unfortunately, most growers had only managed to get four days of harvest before the rain, and now I would expect a lot of the wheat not harvested will go into feed.”
Mr Klaare said the rainfall recordings were lower south of Nevertire and east of Warren, and growers in that zone were holding out hope the next weather system this week will again skirt around them.
Receival sites at Nyngan have started to use the Falling Numbers test at grading, significantly impacting the turnaround time at delivery. This, combined with a shortage of trucks this year, has further frustrated growers racing the weather to deliver their grain.
As a result growers have resorted to temporarily storing grain on farm in sheds, silos and grain sausages just to keep the headers going.
Controlled flooding possible
Meanwhile growers in the flood-prone areas of the Macquarie Valley downstream of Warren are bracing for flooding following the decision by Water NSW, in consultation with the Flood Mitigation Zone Reference Panel, to release overflow water from Burrendong Dam, which was at 128pc capacity following the first November rain event.
Depending on local rainfall the excess water could possibly inundate cropping along watercourses and cut access roads during harvest.
Warren mixed farmer Jim McLaughlin, Merryanbone, who had a wheat crop between the Gunningbar and Duck Creeks, said there was additional pressure to harvest those crops before the water cut access for machinery.
“We had 300 hectares of wheat which was looking like being flooded if we didn’t get in and harvest it. The crop was only ready to harvest three days before the rain so the pressure was on. We also found it too hard to get trucks to take it to town so we’ve cleared out the machinery shed and have stored it in there until we can cart it to town.”
The Flood Mitigation Panel will meet again today following the weekend rain to decide whether to continue to release water downstream.
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