Decision making in a dry finish

Author: Rebecca Barr | Date: 19 Sep 2014

Grain growers in the Mallee and Wimmera regions are bracing for a potentially dry finish for the 2014 season after minimal rain since June, despite a promising start to the season in many areas.

Rainfall map for Victoria over winter 2014

Parts of Victoria have experienced significantly below average rainfall since June.

Source: BOM

Agrivision general manager Kent Wooding said that the area around Swan Hill had one of the best starts in recent memory.

“We had very good rain early, with good soil temperatures so the soil was wet and warm at seeding. However since June, we’ve had very little rain and now many crops are on the edge – they either have or are about to run out of water,” he said.

With no meaningful rain on the horizon, growers may have a difficult decision ahead on what to do with struggling crops.

SARDI research leader Nigel Wilhelm expects that for most growers, holding on for grain yield will still be the best option.

“In many cases, the crops that are stressed do not have the biomass to cut for hay. Particularly in non-cereals, the plants just are not high enough to justify the expense of cutting for hay. In most cases, growers will likely get the best outcome from harvesting the crop even if it’s going to give a low yield,” he said.

Dr Wilhelm recommends that where crops are dying, spraying with herbicide to prevent seed-set may be required.

“In some areas the crops have struggled all season and are only one foot high now and either dying or dead. In these cases, where there is no chance of recovery, growers will need to focus on next year and doing what they can to minimise weed seed-set,” Dr Wilhelm said. “It would just add insult to injury for the crop to suffer next year due to a weed-seed set which creeps through this spring, so spraying out the paddock can be the best of a poor set of choices.”

Inspect for signs of life

  • Inspect the developing grain head and check for any sign of damage to the grain filling sites. Is there any sign of tipping or lost florets from drought or frost?  Is the head still green or has it gone white/brown? If the head is still within the stem, split the stem open to inspect the head.
  • Sometimes the head will fill even when it is stuck inside the boot – especially in barley. But grain will not form where the head has turned white or brown. Check the head size and the likelihood of filling the head of these crops that are stuck inside the boot.
  • How much green leaf area is remaining? In drought situations the plant can remove all of the nutrients from its leaves to support flowering and only the stems remain green. These crops are the least likely to be able to respond to rain as the leaf area (the “factory” for grain production) is lost.

Source: Making decisions in relation to cutting for hay (BCG Fact Sheet)

Where growers have adequate biomass to cut for hay, the decision between hay and harvest is largely a logistical, rather than economic one, according to Mr Wooding.

“If the grower is set up for hay – if they have the right equipment, enough shedding, and a market – then it can be the right call. For growers who don’t have these three things, holding out for harvest is probably the best bet,” he said.

Growers considering spraying out or cutting paddocks for hay need to consider the history of the crop, including how much rainfall it received early in the season and the extent of any early frost damage, along with weather forecasts in deciding what path to take.

Both Mr Wooding and Dr Wilhelm agree that unless the plants are dying or dead there is still time for the crops to recover, and a rain in the coming weeks will significantly improve the potential grain yield for many growers. 

More Information:

Nigel Wilhelm, 0407 185 501, nigel.wilhelm@sa.gov.au

Kent Wooding, 0427 044 748, kent.wooding@agrivision.net.au

View the Canola Hay and Silage Fact Sheet

Read about The value of hay in a cropping system

GRDC Project Code CWF00017

Region South