WHILE it is easy to rule a line through the winter crop in northern Australia and Western Australia is generally in good knick, getting a handle on likely grain production in southern NSW, South Australia and Victoria is a more difficult exercise.
There are areas in both the SA and Victorian Mallee suffering their lowest annual rainfall to the end of August since the 2006 drought but equally there are some areas where farmers say they are entering spring in as good a condition as they ever have.
Wade Dabinett, Grain Producers South Australia (GPSA) chairman, said the season was characterized by a narrow band between the haves and the have-nots.
“In our part of the world it is getting very dry, we’ve missed the August rain, but in other parts of the SA cropping belt they’ve had over 50mm for the month and things are looking fantastic.”
He said the rain seemed to cut out abruptly.
“You don’t have to drive far and you’ll see a big difference in crop condition, the rain has really stayed coastal.”
Mr Dabinett said the Eyre Peninsula had been one area that had a patchy start.
“The southern part of the peninsula was a lot better than the north and east, but the whole area has had August rain, so even those who were struggling a bit have caught up.”
In Victoria, Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) president David Jochinke said much would be learnt about the size of the state crop over the next month.
“Things look OK for a lot of guys at present but they are on minimal moisture so it could quickly turn,” Mr Jochinke said.
He said farmers in some parts of the Mallee were resigned to lower than average yields, with those with sufficient crop biomass contemplating cutting crops for hay, but added other parts of the state looked very good.
“I’ve been driving through parts of the Western District recently and crops there are as good as I have seen them at this time of year.”
However, on the other side of the coin, research group Riverine Plains, based either side of the Murray River in north-eastern Victoria and the southern Riverina, last week released figures showing key grain producing regions such as Albury, Corowa and Yarrawonga had all recorded growing season rainfall in the lowest 10pc of years to the end of July.
Northern Riverina regions such as Urana and Lockhart received less than 75mm for the four months from the start of April to the end of July.
A series of frosts has hit southern Australia over the past week, with temperatures dipping as low as -4 in some cropping areas.
However, Mr Dabinett said he did not think it would be a major negative for crops.
“It may knock a few flowers off the early canola crops but I would imagine it is a bit early to do a great deal of damage.”
Meanwhile, in Western Australia, WAFarmers grains section president Duncan Young said the western crop was generally in good condition.
“The Esperance zone was the worry but it has improved with August rain.
“They are a little short of moisture from where they would like to be, but given they are on the coast and generally get a softer finish than the rest of the state it is the best place in WA to be a little dry leading into spring.”
In other areas, he said farmers were happy with the situation.
“Things look great in the Geraldton zone, although the people I have spoken to would love just a final rain to really finish the crops.
“They are probably only six weeks or so from starting harvest in that part of the world, so it is getting up to the business end of the season.”