National winter crop production was the lowest in a decade in 2018, as growers were hit with a multitude of weather extremes.
But heavy rain across Victoria’s north in the past month has brought some New Year cheer in the form of a much-needed soil moisture boost.
A lack of rain during the growing season and erratic temperatures, teamed with damaging frosts and hailstorms, meant there wasn’t much the weather gods didn’t through at Victorian growers in the past year.
According to Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences state production dropped 51 per cent.
ABARES latest crop report gives an insight to the type of season it had been, quoting lower than average September rainfall and significant frost events, with minimum temperatures “the lowest on record in most cropping regions”. This was followed by above average temperatures and insufficient rainfall in October.
Grain Growers president and Mallee grower Brett Hosking said in his part of the world it was a “very ordinary” 2018, but not a complete loss, with most growers at least getting the headers into the paddock.
“But overall the cropping side was slightly below cost of production, so it was not a good financial outcome for a lot of growers,” he said.
“There were some opportunities there with livestock, with stock bought to put on crops and sold for good returns, but overall not what we had hoped for.”
He said that was likely the feeling across most of the state, with the exception of the Kaniva region, which made good use of the opportunities presented by timely rainfall.
In terms of returns, beans were the big winners in 2018 Mr Hosking said, with cereal markets now bouncing back after the harvest slump.
“Hay has also been good. We have seen a fair number of crops cut for hay and if it hasn’t been sold already, growers will now be actively look for opportunities there as well,” he said.
“Even if it does rain a considerable amount (in January) there will still be demand for hay in the coming month. We realise high hay and grain prices put a lot of pressure on the dairy industry, one of our trading partners in Victoria, but it is a supply and demand situation and we just hope dairy farmers are rewarded at the other end with milk prices.”
Just days into 2019, Mr Hosking said growers were “cautiously optimistic”, with the recent rain across the north a positive for the next growing season this year.
“It will keep growers busy over Christmas and New Year controlling the weeds, but it does provide a lot of opportunity and hope for next year knowing there is moisture there – if we had of gone into this year with that soil moisture it wouldn’t have been the disaster it was – so even if it is tough again this year we will have some reserves to draw on,” he said.
And apart from that precious autumn break, Mr Hosking asked Santa this year to get the Indonesian free trade agreement signed off by the New Year.
“What we did see this year was the ratification of the TPP11 which was really good for the grains industry when every fifth truck that goes out the gate is destined for a TPP country,” he said.
“The signing of the Indonesian free trade agreement would create an opportunity for half a million tonnes of grain to enter Indonesia without a tariff, and given some of the challenges in barley trading with other partners at the moment, there is a real opportunity there.”
NAB Agribusiness Economist Phin Ziebell said while it had been a tough season for winter crops, with below average production across the eastern states in 2018, the pre-Christmas rain was a boom for summer grown fodder crops.
“Eastern Australia and the top end have copped an absolute drenching…this is very good news for graziers and summer crops (except for those who have been flooded), but a nuisance for the remaining winter crop harvest,” he said.
“Many cereal crops have already been cut for hay and harvest in the southern states has been under some pressure from wet conditions.
“Domestic grain prices remain at very elevated levels. This reflects the sustained strong feed demand in the eastern states and the outlook for a hot dry summer in Queensland, which suggests more grain will be required.”
Sorghum will be the big winner from the early summer rain, Mecardo analyst Andrew Whitelaw reported, saying both acreage and yield would likely increase above current estimates.
“There is still ample time for producers to seed recently moistened paddocks, I would expect acreage to increase in following updates to levels above average,” he said.
“The bigger the sorghum crop becomes, the larger the impact will be on pricing of both Sorghum and other feed crops. This will be a relief for grain consumers up and down the east coast as the flow on effect reduces input prices.
“However, with record cattle on feed and a poor northern winter crop the pricing scenarios are still expected to attractive for producers.”
December rain was a saviour for fodder and grazing crops in many parts of the NSW Riverina.
It might have fallen too late to help general pasture growth, and brought with it a hefty summer weed burden, but it did give some relief to producers who would have otherwise had bare paddocks.
Coolac, NSW, farm store manager Peter Pitcher said growers planted sorghum crops based on early November rain, and the December follow-up had helped them flourish.
“A lot more sorghum has been planted this year because of the dry spring, to make up for the lack of dry matter being carried over,” he said.
“From the middle of August to the end of October (2018) we have our usual bulk growth times, which growers then conserve some for hay and silage and the residual feed carries them through the summer until autumn.
“Without that growth they’ve had to plant these crops to produce some sort of feed – a majority of them will be grazed with some cut for hay silage. After the recent rain it will now produce a lot of dry matter with good protein and energy levels.”