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Dry seeding pushes on for most as growers adjust canola plantings

GPA 2024 Season Update #1

As seeding and topic of rainfall fuel the conversations of grain producers, Grain Producers Australia's representatives provide an update on conditions from around the country.

Seeding is underway for most Australian grain producers with many in parts of western and southern Australia reducing their canola plantings as they continue to wait for a proper season break in the absence of any rain. 

The longer growing season required by canola had many growers pinning their hopes on an April break according to Grain Producers Australia Chair Barry Large

But the lack of rain has many returning or storing seed and increasing cereal plantings. 

“Western Australia is unseasonably dry and South Australia is the same,” he said. 

"Our expectations to grow canola has many growers awaiting an April break and this isn’t when most areas are getting the rain these days."

Mr Large farms at Miling, in WA’s Northern Wheatbelt and much of the State ran closer to a mid-to-late season break in May. 

He said growers in SA were experiencing their season break after their traditional ANZAC Day expectation. 

“We’re getting a bit anxious, but I think the anxiousness is worse in WA because of how poor of a season we had last year,” Mr Large said. 

“We’ve had 30 millimetres since January and that is unseasonably dry.” 

WA growers in the South-West benefited from a storm front last week that helped their outlook, but for a large part of the grain growing regions, conditions remain dry. 

Victorian growers who experienced good summer rains have some moisture in their subsoil, but Mr Large said the urgency for a season break was also growing. 

Meanwhile, Queensland and northern New South Wales growers have had ample rain and are verging on too wet in some areas that are still harvesting summer crops such as sorghum. Tasmanian conditions also remain quite dry, with growers struggling for moisture to germinate grazing crops and dry sowing in the hopes of a May season break in the coming weeks. 

Mr Large said growers without a season break were seeding dry and could do with the confidence boost before the end of May.

Conditions are dry across much of Western Australia and while some growers have had rains in recent weeks, there is little sub-soil moisture to support crop growth according to WA Grains Group Chair and Coorow grower Alastair Falconer

“Everyone is extremely concerned about costs this year and the fact that average prices and average yields will not create enough in returns to break even,” he said. 

“Everyone is pretty jumpy. 

“People are making decisions on how much they put in and what they put in based on those factors and the lack of rain so far.” 

Mr Falconer said uncertainty about the future of live export is also weighing on growers who cannot rely on sheep to diversify their income. 

For many, seeding was already well underway he said, dry sowing happening across much of the state and some growers would be considering reducing programs of canola as the price per tonne was not attractive. 

He said the rain event that had given some people hope in the last few weeks was patchy and inconsistent. 

Rain for some parts of Western Australia has renewed hopes for a good start to the season according to WAFarmers Grains Section President and Williams grower Mark Fowler.  

“Most people across the grain belt would’ve started sowing in early April, which is what most WA farmers do these days,” he said.  

“At the time, we were getting hot days and the weather bureau was saying it might not rain until June, so there was a fair bit of anxiety at the time.”  

Mr Fowler said a lot of growers, including himself, had reduced their intended canola plantings because of these conditions and cost of canola seed.  

“Thankfully a lot of areas had some rain in the first week of May,” he said.  

“Around our farm we had about 17 to 25 millimetres, which covers a 140 kilometre area on different properties.  

“A lot of people had between 10mm and 25mm and some had even bigger events.  

“It was enough to get a lot of dry sown crops germinated and enough moisture for people to work on finishing their programs.”  

Mr Fowler said there could be an issue later in the year where crops now germinating at the same time, would be flowering at the same time and ultimately be at greater combined risk of frost.  

Victorian grain growers are feeling “positive” for the season ahead according to Victorian Farmers Federation Grains Commitee Chair and Berriwillock Grower Craig Henderson. 

“There is a good profile across most of Victoria and for a majority of us, seeding is well on the way,” he said. 

“We usually dry sow about a third of our program and, like most people, we will keep going into the second half of May in the hopes it will rain soon. 

“If we got 20 millimetres now it would be perfect.” 

Mr Henderson said decent grain pricing for lentils and cereals had producers hopeful, but fertiliser supply issues were causing some concern. 

“We can’t access blends in particular and a lot of farmers will want their fertiliser on farm ready to go for winter,” he said. 

Conditions in the central west to northern New South Wales are well-placed this seeding, but farmers in southern Riverina, such as NSWFarmers Grains Commitee Chair and Brocklesby grower Justin Everitt, need rain to help their dry sown crops to germinate. 

“We’re a bit drier than the rest of the Riverina and there’s been a lot of rain across most of the state,” he said. 

“The areas that have had reasonable rainfall couldn’t have had a better start to seeding.” 

Mr Everitt said growers in the south were used to a dry April, although in recent years they had been “spoilt” with an early, wet start. 

“It would normally be great to have rain by early to mid-April, but because we’re a grazing area we can put in the grazing crops first and then keep chipping away at the larger program from there.” 

Mr Everitt said most growers would be finished by mid-May and dry down crops would be ready for the break when it happened. 

Queensland sorghum growers such as AgForce Grains President, Grain Producers Australia northern region director and Warra grower Brendan Taylor are frustrated watching sorghum crops decline in quality after Easter rains stalled their harvest. 

“Sorghum farmers are still finishing their harvest and the longer our sorghum crops are sitting out there, the more we’re losing in terms of quality and returns," he said. 

“It is still very wet.” 

With sorghum harvest usually finished in February and March, Mr Taylor said this delay was close to creating delay to planting the winter 2024 crops. 

“Further north they’re having an easier time, they’ve had rain and they have started their programs, but as you head inland, parts of central Queensland are quite dry and this is concerning for their start,” he said. 

Mr Taylor said fall army worm is going to present a challenge as some growers could experience a green bridge between summer and winter crops while also having to consider the cost of the chemical options, with some of the cheaper alternatives not approved for use this season. 

Grain Producers SA Chief Executive Officer Brad Perry said widespread dry conditions have many South Australian growers dry sowing their cropping program in the hopes they can capture a timely break.   

“Any rain we’ve had so far has been very patchy, but overall conditions are dry,” he said.  

“Some areas have had the odd shower, but nothing substantial to aid the germination that we need." 

“There is some subsoil moisture there for some, but for others it’s really quite shallow."  

He said there was subsoil moisture across parts of the Yorke Peninsula and Eyre Peninsula, but the amount varied significantly by location and region. 


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