June 5, 2013
The Victorian harvest is over and done with for another year, with expected production just slightly under average at four to 4.5 million tonnes of grain. There were no big surprises in production. The northern and western Mallee struggled, while eastern and southern parts of the low rainfall zone fared better due to timely spring rain events, which, while patchy, lifted parts of the region to above average. The Wimmera had a solid season, although parts of the north and west of that zone, around Nhill and Jeparit struggled with the dry. There were similar reports of average yields in the Northern Country and in the north-east, while the Western District was above average, with no concerns with waterlogging. The crop is largely sold now, with farmers holding small parcels of wheat and pulses. Those with stored grain are looking at the potential for a feed-grain driven drought premium, due to the declining prospects of the summer crop, while internationally, concerns remain over the wheat balance sheet. Prices were hovering at $280-290/t on Tuesday, with strong demand from exporters, even though Australian prices are above the international rate at present. Ouyen farmer Ian Hastings said the year was disappointing in the Mallee. “Barley was our best earner, with yields of about 1.8t a hectare, which is only 20pc down on average, but other crops were very disappointing,” he said. In particular, Mr Hastings was unhappy with the performance of the wheat. “Wheat stubbles, in comparison to barley, don’t look too bad, but there was just no grain in the head, yields were down 1-1.1t/ha, when we’d hope for close to 2t/ha.” He said break crops, such as pulses and canola, had also disappointed. Mr Hastings said Mallee farmers were already planning next year’s crops, and the combination of the dry summer drying out the subsoil, and the bare stubbles, meant there is likely to be a swing back to cereals. “We obviously would like to get our break crops in, but it might not be possible in some paddocks, especially those that had lupin crops, they are completely bare and will dry right out.” He said the good prices had helped a bit, but the sheer lack of volume of grain meant farm incomes were well down. Unusually, generally reliable areas from Underbool west to the SA border also had very poor seasons. In the Wimmera, Rob McRae, Wallup, between Horsham, Warracknabeal and Dimboola, said while yields were only average, the high prices meant it had been a profitable year for most. “We had cereals generally around the tonne to the acre in the old (2.4t/ha), and the barley was around half that,” he said. “In terms of the pulses, which are important around here, they were generally okay, although there were some issues with frosting, especially on the flatter parts of the Wimmera Plains.” He said the south-eastern part of the Wimmera, around Rupanyup and Lubeck, had fared best and yields were lower around Nhill. Grain quality was generally good, although wheat protein was down. “Compared to average, it was pretty dry, but we got a little bit when we needed it, so it panned out okay,” he said. South West Agronomy’s David Wisewould said yields were good in the Western District, although a dry November thwarted potential bumper yields. Canola was the star attraction in many cases, as it goes in earlier and doesn’t rely on late rain. Mr Wisewould said there were widespread yields of 4-5t/ha for cereal crops and about 2.5t/ha for canola.