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El Nino begins to bite for Australian grain producers

The third batch of seasonal update videos for 2023 released this week by the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre indicate the El Nino is beginning to have an impact on crops.

The Bureau of Meteorology declared Australia was in an El Nino climate pattern on September 19. Modelling suggested it would persist until the end of summer.

Production estimates for New South Wales and Western Australia have dropped to less than the five-year average, while estimates for Victoria and South Australia remain above the five-year average and Queensland is on par with the five-year average.

AEGIC’s videos feature grain producers from across the nation speaking about the progress of their production programs during the growing season, and come with subtitles in eight languages.

The videos are made by AEGIC in collaboration with organisations from across the Australian grains supply chain, including support from GPA, to provide insights for export customers and grain buyers.

This year the format has been tweaked to include a summary at the start of each video.

Eastern states

According to the October AEGIC update, crops across eastern Australia are mostly in a good position, with hot, dry weather leading to an early start to harvest in some areas.

Victoria mostly looks good, despite warm weather and low rainfall in some locations.

In NSW, warm weather has ripened crops and harvest is underway in many areas, where grain quality is generally good.

Many crops in Queensland are looking great, but irregular weather has led to uneven yield and quality in some areas.

Jasmine Ryan, of Barry in the central west of NSW, said their RGT Waugh wheat was “going great guns”.

Late-sown oats and barley had germinated well, they were monitoring for pest and disease pressure and “can’t wait for harvest”, she said.

Jake Hamilton (above), of Condamine on the Western Downs of Queensland, said lack of spring rain had resulted in harvest starting three weeks ahead of schedule.

“Harvest is in full swing,” he said. “We’ve taken off wheat and barley so far ... yields have been surprisingly strong – average to better than average – considering we’ve had 57mm of in-crop rain.”

Jake said he was hoping for more sunny days so they could finish harvest before the storm season rolled in.

South Australia

Steve Glover (below), of Yeelanna, SA, said his Trojan wheat crop was still hanging on nicely, forming grain and using its moisture reserves.

“A soil probe a few hundred metres away says there’s still some moisture left in the soil, which it’s going to need now that El Nino has been declared,” he said. “A dry finish is what that means but I think this paddock is going to finish out okay ... we’re right in the middle of the frost window so we don’t want any frost and we’re crossing our fingers that we’ve got enough moisture to make it through grain fill.”

Michael “Abs” Thompson, of Minlaton on the Yorke Peninsula, said paddocks had dried out a lot, thanks to some hot days and northerly winds, and the soil profile was running out of moisture across many blocks.

“We’re right at the start of grain fill with wheat so we’re looking for rain soon,” he said. “Lentils are podding up well even on dry country and disease pressure is low. Harvest is four weeks away, depending on the weather.”

Simon Goss, of Brinkworth, said he was hoping for rain in the next week or two to finish off the wheat and lentils, followed by cool weather,

Gary Virgin, Bordertown, said his crops were going nicely after receiving 367mm of rain for the year, including 11mm for September so far, “but some cool weather and rain would be good”.

Western Australia

The Geraldton Zone has experienced more hot and dry weather and some crops have struggled. Harvest is now underway.

Some crops in the Kwinana Zone had lost yield potential while others looked great. Overall, production should be close to average. Harvest will begin shortly.

The Albany Zone is mostly in a good position as growers prepared for harvest.

The Esperance Zone remains a mixed bag – some crops were excellent, but others were struggling – and overall production would be lower than last season.

Simon Wallwork, of Corrigin, who is a GPA member, said warm weather had accelerated maturity in his RGT Planet barley which would be ready to harvest in about three weeks.

“Grain size looks good at this stage and we’re expecting above average yields with this paddock this year,” he said.

Signs of colour change in canola suggested it would be ready for harvest in two to three weeks and likely to yield 30-40 per cent above average.

Stuart Hocking (below), of Boxwood Hill, said they had experienced a mild finish to the season, with 90mm of rain recorded in August and September. This allowed wheat to fill out nicely, so they were expecting above average yields.


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