A lack of national fertiliser-use data is hampering crop predictions and has the potential to cost growers millions of dollars in lost income when the grain-handling system is ‘caught out’, says grain supply dynamics specialist Dr David Stephens.
Dr Stephens says there has been no regional-scale fertiliser-use pattern established on a national level for 15 years – the last time this information was included was in an Australian Bureau of Statistics agricultural census.
He says the level of nutrients used, particularly nitrogen, can be a key guide to yield and crop forecasts, and the absence of this information leads to poor planning. He points to the 2010 harvest in southern Australia that was much larger than expected and caused extensive and costly bottlenecks in farm-to-port delivery.
“The volumes caught growers and grain handlers by surprise. There were long queues at receival depots, and as trucks were waiting in line the weather turned. Heavy rain resulted in a significant downgrading of the remaining crops; it cost growers millions of dollars.”
Dr Stephens, who works with the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre, says nitrogen fertiliser is the second most important driver of crop production across Australia behind rainfall: “But the lack of nutrient data, once determined by an annual census, severely affects national and shire crop yield forecasts.”
Dr Stephens sees it as a significant gap in the available market intelligence that, if addressed, could improve growers’ operational decisions, as well as the provision of grain transport and storage services and grain trading decisions.
“Australian cropping systems have the highest yield variability of anywhere in the world and the need for more accurate production predictions that benefit both growers and markets is greater than ever,” Dr Stephens says.
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