Continuing dry forces growers to make informed decisions
Author: Sharon Watt | Date: 18 Sep 2018
Grain growers experiencing continuing dry seasonal conditions in Victoria and South Australia are being encouraged to adopt a flexible approach to decision making around management of this year’s winter crops.
Growers should consider the economic, practical and agronomic implications when assessing the options available to them and are advised to utilise the tools, resources and support mechanisms at their disposal.
The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and other industry organisations are reminding growers of the importance of seeking advice to assist with informed decision making.
To assist growers and advisers wishing to access tools and resources to assist with decision-making, and for general support, the GRDC has developed a “Dealing With The Dry” web portal which contains links to useful information, available at http://bit.ly/2xkI3CP.
GRDC Southern Region Panel Chair John Bennett, a mixed farmer at Lawloit in Victoria’s west Wimmera region, says the lack of rainfall in regions such as north eastern Victoria, the Mallee, and parts of SA’s Eyre Peninsula and Mid-Upper North regions has necessitated assessment of growers’ options. This has been exacerbated by recent frost events.
“Responding to the season by getting your hands on the right tools, data and advice so that you can make the right decisions is imperative,” says Mr Bennett.
“Having a realistic outlook of where the season may be heading is important, and I suggest growers start thinking about their alternatives as early as possible so that they are prepared when a decision needs to be made – don’t put off those thought processes until the last minute.”
Using objective assessments such as biomass cuts and involving advisers, rather than guesswork based on observations from the ute window, are highly advisable steps in the decision-making process.
Growers should make gross-margin comparisons when deciding whether to persist with a crop, cut it for hay or graze it. Cost and income calculators such as the one developed by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, http://bit.ly/2QiZdJQ, can assist when assessing the value of salvaging crops for fodder, grain or grazing.
Agriculture Victoria has also produced Grains Calculators, buff.ly/2xaLxZE.
If cutting for hay is a viable and practical course of action, Mr Bennett recommends growers have a grasp of the current markets, even though the shortage of fodder works in growers’ favour.
Growers can monitor hay price movements through market intelligence services, such as the Dairy Australia national hay market weekly update at http://bit.ly/2MvV1na.
“There is certainly a market for hay this year which is fortunate, and although cutting and baling crops means more work and expense, we’ve never regretted cutting some of our crops for hay. Hay is now part of our farming system.”
Mr Bennett says a dry finish often makes for quality hay, although canola can be the exception.
“We always try to cut canola early when there is still green leaf in it. But ultimately you’re better off cutting up until podfill than letting it go through if the crop’s failing.”
Previous GRDC research investments illustrated a clear link between crop stage and feed quality. Feed quality of late podfill hay is inferior to that of mid flowering to midpodfill hay (http://bit.ly/2CMseuN).
Mr Bennett says cutting a ‘dirty’ crop if circumstances suit is a ‘no-brainer’.
“It’s logical to prioritise those weedy, problematic paddocks for cutting. Taking out weeds through cutting will result in a clean paddock for next year and it will reduce herbicide and labour costs and ultimately will allow you to grow a cheap following crop.”
Frost damage can also tip the scales in favour of cutting hay, according to Mr Bennett.
Rural Directions (SA) consultant Patrick Redden says frost in many low-lying grain-growing areas over the past fortnight has led to increasing numbers of growers cutting for hay or planning to do so.
“Unfortunately, frost makes the decision about what to do with struggling crops a lot easier, as cutting for hay is often the most logical management option,” Mr Redden says.
For those growers contemplating their options, Mr Redden encourages growers to be as objective as possible.
“Frost aside, if considering hay based on a crop’s ability to fill grain, get a good handle on current soil moisture levels and rainfall expectations for the remainder of the year, dig holes and use probes to assess the moisture profile, and if you are thinking about hay, cut some samples to get a good yield estimate,” Mr Redden advises.
“Try to take the emotion out of the equation if you can and always get a second opinion, especially if you’re not an experienced hay grower.”
Mr Redden says having a good understanding of chemical withholding periods and other hay market requirements is crucial.
Western AG (Victoria) agronomist Edwina Hicks agrees that growers must have a reasonable appreciation of the costs associated with management options for their crops and the potential returns, especially if crops are unlikely to make it to grain fill.
“Although the prices for hay and silage are quite buoyant, it is critical that growers closely look at the logistical considerations attached to hay-making, such as getting the timing of cutting and baling right, contractor availability, protection and storage of hay, and being able to pay contractors if cash flow is an issue,” Mrs Hicks says.
“And remember that hay has to be handled several times before it reaches its destination. There are many factors for growers to consider when comparing the options available to them.”
Mrs Hicks says if growers have livestock already in the system, grazing them on poor-performing canola and cereal crops that lack bulk can be potentially rewarding.
However, growers are warned to exercise caution when grazing stressed canola crops as high nitrate levels can be toxic, and soil type, ground cover and erosion risk must be prioritised in grazing considerations.
Meanwhile, Mr Bennett says the widespread impact of the unfavourable season is well recognised.
“It’s not just growers and their families who are under incredible stress, but their agronomists and advisers are also experiencing extreme pressure,” he says.
“It’s at times like this that we need to look out for each other and offer support and understanding.”
Sharon Watt, GRDC
Phone 0409 675100
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